New City of David Centre approved

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

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

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

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

The following illustration was published in Haaretz newspaper:

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

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

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

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Conclusion of City of David Excavations

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

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

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

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

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


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New German Bible Lexicon

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

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

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

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

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

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“Jerusalem 3D” Film Premiere in London

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

Josh Glancy wrote in today’s Sunday Times:

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

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

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

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

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New Discoveries on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted in Excavations, Jerusalem, News, Temple Mount | 24 Comments

The Temple Mount in the Washington Post

Yesterday, The Washington Post published an article on the Temple Mount.

Muslims call it the Noble Sanctuary. Jews and Christians call it the Temple Mount. Built atop Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, this 36-acre site is the place where seminal events in Islam, Judaism and Christianity are said to have taken place, and it has been a flash point of conflict for millenniums. Many aspects of its meaning and history are still disputed by religious and political leaders, scholars, and even archaeologists.

Several cycles of building and destruction have shaped what is on this hilltop today.

These cycles of the Development of the Temple Mount are shown in the five sketches below the main site drawing:

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Kh. el-Maqatir – ‘Joshua’s Ai’ Exhibition

The Associates for Biblical Research announced the opening of an exhibition called: “Khirbet el-Maqatir: The History of a Biblical Site” at the Dunham Bible Museum of Houston Baptist University, January 21st through December, 2014″

Khirbet el-Maqatir: History of a Biblical Site will be a year-long exhibit of 42 artifacts from excavations in Israel at Khirbet el-Maqatir, thought to be the site of ancient Ai from Joshua 7-8.  The Civil Administration for Judea and Samaria has approved the loan of these artifacts for exhibit at the Houston Baptist University’s Dunham Bible Museum from January 21-December 19, 2014.  In conjunction with the exhibit, a symposium will be held on February 8th, focusing on the role of archaeology in understanding ancient history and biblical studies as well, including critical reflection on the excavations at Khirbet el-Maqatir and what light they shed on the ancient biblical world.

This is the program of the symposium:

9 am – Dr. Bryant Wood, “ Khirbet el-Maqatir: A Border Fortress in the Highlands of Canaan and a Proposed New Location for the Ai of Joshua 7-8”

10:15 – Dr. Eugene Merrill, “Ai and Old Testament Chronology: Who Cares?”

11:30-1:00 Lunch Break

1 pm - Dr. Scott Stripling, “Ritual Purity at Khirbet el-Maqatir’s First Century Village and the First Jewish Revolt Against Rome”

2:15 – Dr. Leen Ritmeyer, “Does the Byzantine Church at Maqatir reflect the sacred architecture of the Temple in Jerusalem?

3:30 – Closing panel discussion

This recently completed reconstruction drawing of the Byzantine Monastery at Kh. el-Maqatir will be part of the exhibition. Drawing: Leen Ritmeyer

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New archaeological discoveries in Hierapolis

As stated in a previous post, Francesco D’Andria, professor of classic archaeology at the University of Salento, has been excavating the cave of the Plutonium in Hierapolis. This year, he discovered two unique marble statues:

“The statues represent two mythological creatures,” D’Andria told Discovery News. “One depicts a snake, a clear symbol of the underworld, the other shows Kerberos, or Cerberus, the three-headed watchdog of hell in the Greek mythology.”

Rolled onto itself, the snake looks threateningly toward anybody trying to approach it, while the 4-foot-tall Kerberos resembles the Kangal, the Anatolian shepherd dog. Photo credit: Franscesco D’Andria

According to this article in Discovery News, the excavations also revealed that the source of the thermal springs that produce the white travertine terraces, was located in this cave.

The site represented an important destination for pilgrims. People watched the sacred rites from steps above the cave opening, while priests sacrificed bulls to Pluto. The ceremony included leading the animals into the cave, and dragging them out dead.

During the rites priests sacrificed bulls to Pluto. The ceremony included leading the animals into the cave, and dragging them out dead. Credit: Franscesco D’Andria

According to another newspaper report, the tombs located in the extensive northern cemetery of Hierapolis are being restored. While removing the asphalt road that ran through the middle of the cemetery, an ancient road was discovered.

The Tomb of the Gladiator, which is located next to the road, has a decorated lintel over the entrance showing a pot of oil, a trident and a shield. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

Denizli Mayor Abdülkadir Demir said they were celebrating the 25th anniversary of Pamukkale’s inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List. He said Pamukkale was a very important tourism center for Turkey due to its travertine, ancient pool and thermal sources. He said, “When we look at figures in the beginning of November, we see the number of visitors is 100,000 more than last year. Interest is increasing every year.”

The northern necropolis of hierapolis is located on top of the city’s famous travertine cliffs. Here is a rich collection of ancient tombs, which immediately immerse the visitor in the city’s history. From the northern entrance, one walks over a mile long path that is lined with funerary monuments. This necropolis contains some 1000 tombs made of limestone in all shapes and sizes. Photo: Leen Ritmeyer

Hierapolis is mentioned in the New Testament. The believers in Hierapolis were very precious to the Apostle Paul (Col. 4:13). One wonders if any of those early Christian believers may have been buried here.

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Reconstructing Jerusalem for Jerusalem the Movie

In a previous post, we mentioned the making of Jerusalem the Movie in iMax 3D. Every week there is an update from this beautiful movie on Facebook. This weeks update shows an atmospheric reconstruction of Jerusalem in the First Century:

Check out this computer-generated recreation of Jerusalem in the 1st century CE / AD, featuring the latest archaeological consensus on what the 2nd Temple might have looked like. See it on the giant screen for the first time in our film.

A computer generated reconstruction of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.

I have enjoyed these very varied and visual posts, but this one is special for me. In that previous post we wrote that we had been invited “ to contribute to this movie with reconstructions of Jerusalem in the Second Temple and Byzantine periods”. The generation of this digital picture of Jerusalem took many days of consultation, but the result is very gratifying.

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Jerome (Jerry) Murphy-O’Connor

This week the well-known Biblical scholar, Jerome (Jerry) Murphy-O’Connor, professor of the New Testament at the École Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jérusalem passed away. He was especially interested in the life of the Apostle Paul.

Jerome Murphy O’Connor

He was one of those rare scholars who, while appreciating both the study of the NT text and that of archaeology, kept a balanced view of the value of each field. In a recent interview by Jill Duchess of Hamilton and published in the Catholic Herald, he said:

“The light shed by archaeology on the New Testament is indirect – and with varying degrees of clarity.”  “Generally, archaeology can do no more than fill in the backgrounds against which the drama of evangelisation was played out.”

However, his intimate acquaintance with the dizzying amount of archaeological discoveries made in recent years caused him to reflect:

“New Testament archaeology, he insisted, should not be written off. Far from it. It may not have substantiated any facts about Jesus himself, but it has illuminated the material culture of the first century in which Jesus and his disciples lived. The vast array of sites from which piles of potsherds, coins, walls, floors, and bones have been found have added a tangible reality to many aspects to day-to-day life in Palestine. Citing some of the geographical and cultural details which have been unearthed, Fr Jerry said: “We know, for instance, where Jesus was baptised, the sort of room in which he lived in Capernaum and the type of boat from which he preached. We can trace the paths he walked.”

“Details of the actual towns and locations mentioned in the gospels – Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan, Capernaum, Bethsaida, Magdala, Jericho and Bethany – are now firmly established on maps.”

A reconstruction drawing of a typical house in Capernaum from the time of Christ.
The rooms of the house were located round a central courtyard, which had a water cistern. The main living quarters were upstairs, while other rooms were used for storage and work. In one corner, animals were kept overnight behind a fenestrated wall, a wall with windows, where fodder was placed.
Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee, was the city where Jesus lived after he left Nazareth (Matthew 4.13; Mark 2.1; Luke 4.31; John 2.12). © Leen Ritmeyer

Although he was a Dominican priest, archaeology made him critical of some of the so-called “Holy Places”. For instance, he did not believe the 14 Stations of the Cross to be authentic. And despite the fact that he believed that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre preserved the correct traditional location of the tomb in which Jesus was buried, his description of a visit to the present-day church in his popular book The Holy Land, an Archaeological Guide from the Earliest Times to 1700,  Oxford University Press (Second Edition, 1986, p.43), contained the following memorable words:

“One expects the central shrine of Christendom to stand out in majestic isolation, but anonymous buildings cling to it like barnacles. One looks for numinous light, but it is dark and cramped. One hopes for peace, but the ear is assailed by a cacaphony of warring chants. One desires holiness, only to encounter a jealous possessiveness: the six groups of occupants – Latin Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Armenians, Syrians, Copts, Ethiopians – watch one another suspiciously for any infringement of rights. The frailty of man is nowhere more apparent than here; it epitomizes the human condition. The empty that come to be filled will leave desolate.”

During the reign of Constantine the Great, in the fourth century A.D., Jerusalem became an important Christian city. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built on the site of the Temple of Aphrodite and the Basilica of Holy Zion at the south of the Western Hill. Two and a half centuries later, Justinian built the massive Nea Church and extended the Roman Cardo further south, while the Temple Mount was left in ruins. © Leen Ritmeyer

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, prepared for GLO digital Bible

Jerry often led tours for the expat community living in Jerusalem, one of which, Kathleen who shares Jerry’s citizenship, became my wife. We both knew him well. He asked me to make illustrations for The Times Atlas of the Bible (Harper in the USA), of which he was the NT editor. I visited him many times in his room in the serene École Biblique (where the basilica was sometimes referred to by English speaking wags who attended church service there, as “the Cold and Bleak”) while researching the Temple Mount. In the Preface of my book The Quest, Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, I wrote:

“The valuable comments and suggestions by Jerome Murphy O’Connor, O.P., Professor of the New Testament at École Biblique et Archéologique Française in Jerusalem, during the later stages of my research into the architectural development of the Temple Mount, were most helpful.”

In Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Jerusalem has lost a great scholar and passionate lover of the Holy City.

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