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.
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 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.
The most well-known depiction of a menorah dating from the Second Temple period was found in the Jewish Quarter Excavations:
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.
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 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.
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 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 excavation site is now covered up until funds can be raised to reconstruct this monumental marble arch.
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.
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”.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 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:
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:
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.
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!
Hillel Fendel of Israelnationalnews (Arutz 7) reports that the stone floor inside the Dome of the Rock is being dug up by tractor under the guise of “replacing carpets”.
Using the excuse of “replacing carpets,” the Waqf (Islamic Trust) on the Temple Mount began digging up the stone floor today inside the Mosque of Omar – the site of some of the most sacred areas of the two Holy Temples of Kings Solomon and Herod.
A small tractor was brought into the famous gold-domed structure and dug and removed earth there, with no permit to do so. Such work requires permission from and supervision by the Antiquities Authority, as well as approval from the Ministerial Committee on Archaeological Digs in Holy Sites.
The Antiquities Authority said the works were not coordinated with it, and added, “Further questions must be directed towards the police, who are the sovereign body there.”
The joint Temple Mount Movements umbrella organization, HaMateh HaMeshutaf, reports that any change in the floor, and certainly a penetration into the earth below, is liable to cause irreversible damage to the foundations of the Holy Temple and the surviving remnants of the Holy Temple periods.
This is understandably a cause of concern, especially as there is no information of how deep the excavation is. It is not known therefore what was found or damaged below the floor.
It may be helpful to remember that in 1959, sections of the floor were also dug up for the purpose of strengthening the columns and walls of the Dome of the Rock with reinforced concrete. These secretly taken photographs showed the bedrock below the pavement:
In all of these photographs, the bedrock appears to be located not more than a foot or two below the floor of the Dome of the Rock. It is important that this excavation is carried out under archaeological supervision for even if nothing other than soil is found, the configuration of the bedrock may cast light on the layout of the Second Temple that stood here almost 2000 years ago.
In our previous post, we attempted to marshall the archaeological evidence that shows that Shimon Gibson’s suggestion that the Western Wall of the Temple Mount was destroyed by an earthquake in 363AD is incorrect. In response, one of our readers, Richard Stadler, asked the following questions:
I am trying to picture this in my mind’s eye. If the earthquake of 363 CE caused the huge stones to fall, and if the Roman bath house was constructed before 363, when you dug down through the layers to reach the Roman bath house, you would have found the bath house pulverized by the stones, right? Did you find the stones we see today on the Roman street next to the Western Wall, UNDERNEATH the bathhouse when you removed the bath house? If so, it appears that they had to have fallen before the bath house was built over them, right? Is there a picture record of the excavations which uncovered the bath house and is it definitively dated to construction before the earthquake that Gibson is suggesting caused these stones to end up where they were found by archeologists digging down through the layers?
The bath house mentioned dates from the Roman period, as the many 10th Legion stamped bricks used in the construction of the hypocaust indicate (see: Eilat Mazar, The Complete Guide to the Temple Mount Excavations, pp. 72,73). Below is a picture of the cold water pool (frigidarium) of the Roman bath house in the Temple Mount excavations:
As can be seen, the paving of the pool was found intact, together with two sets of curved steps leading down to the bath (upper left and right). In the foreground are two piles of stones, built into the bath at a later period. These served as the foundations for two column bases of an Umayyad building.
Thus, the archaeological evidence proves that this bath, which was located only 8 meters from the Western Wall, was not destroyed by the earthquake of 363AD. The bath, in fact, was not destroyed at all, just covered over in the later Umayyad period.
When, in the process of excavation, this bath was removed, the Herodian street was found about 3 meters lower down:
On the right of the photo, the western edge of the stone pile visible in the excavations today can be seen. Compare with the photo below:
The archaeological record described above makes it abundantly clear that the upper part of the Western Wall was not destroyed by the earthquake of 363 AD, but long before that, namely in 70AD, as the coins found below the Herodian destruction stones on this street also testify.
Walking on the Herodian street alongside the Western Wall in the Jerusalem Archaeological Garden and Davidson Centre, one sees an enormous pile of Herodian stones that clearly came from higher up the wall. The excavations in this area by the late Benjamin Mazar and later by Ronnie Reich have proved without a doubt that this destruction occurred in 70AD. The Herodian stones fell on a thin layer of destruction debris that contained many Herodian coins.
As reported first in Haaretz newspaper (in the Premium section which is available to subscribers only, but which was kindly forwarded by email to me by Joe Lauer) and later elsewhere, this view is now challenged by Shimon Gibson, who claims that these stones were destroyed by an earthquake that took place in 363 AD.
He reasons that a Roman bakery that was uncovered by Benjamin Mazar and published by his granddaughter Eilat, would not have been built next to a ruin.
“Who would buy bread in a place with damaged walls above it and fallen stones [adjacent to it]? You don’t build next to a four-story ruin.”
Obviously, people did build next to the four-story high Western Wall, as both the bakery and the Western Wall are still standing there today! We need to remember that the Temple Mount became a symbol of Jewish rebellion against Rome and therefore it was deliberately left in ruins.
“Now we know much more about the late Roman period. If there was a neighborhood like this there, how could it be that they leave debris from the year 70 CE in the middle of it all? It’s like going out of your house and leaving a pile of debris. You clear it.”
Well, that is easier said than done, as these stones were very heavy and difficult to move. Some stones were moved, but only for monumental building activities, such as the Damascus Gate, which was been partly built with Herodian stones in secondary use, and other projects such as the Nea Church and the Umayyad buildings. For smaller projects, such as dwellings, these Herodian stones were cut into smaller stones that were easier to handle.
Additionally, as we will see below, there was no heavy stone debris where the bakery was built. The bakery was also not located next to the main Roman street in this area, called the Lower Cardo, but on a street of secondary importance, some distance away from it.
“Gibson believes the builders of these structures used the still-existing Temple Mount walls and imitated their architecture and design as an effort by the Church to show that it – not rabbinic Judaism – was the anointed successor to Temple Judaism.”
A close examination of these structures, however, shows that the Herodian stones in these buildings are in secondary use. They were taken from the Temple Mount wall and moved there.
Before making sweeping statements, one should carefully examine the evidence. What kind of “large building stones” do visitors today see lying on the Herodian street? Among the rectangular stones there are many pilaster stones that were toppled down from the upper part of the Western Wall where the western portico stood.
Josephus records that during the struggle for the Temple Mount, these porticoes were burnt and destroyed (War 6.191). The timber beams would have caught fire, the roof was destroyed and the pillars probably fell down on the Temple Mount, leaving only the outer wall, with its pilasters, standing. This upper part of the wall was pushed down by the Romans and fell on the street below, which was covered with a layer of burnt debris containing coins of the Jewish Revolt. Gibson‘s argument that these coins may have been deposited below these stones at a later date, goes against all archaeological logic.
The destroyed stones on the Herodian street were found in front of the pier of Robinson’s Arch as far as the northern edge of the excavations below the Mughrabi Gate ramp which leads up to the Temple Mount, but not south of this point.
No such quantity of stones was found near the southwest corner where the Roman bakery was found.
So, the bakery was not built in the middle of a pile of Herodian stones, as Gibson tries to infer that people believe. Of course, some rubble must have been cleared, but no gigantic mound of stones. That is clear also when one looks up. The Herodian southwest corner, as all other corners of the Herodian Temple Mount, has been preserved to a great height. Only the Trumpeting Stone and a few others were found here lying on the street.
Earthquakes can cause a lot of damage, as happened in 1927 when the al-Aqsa Mosque was almost entirely destroyed. But there is no evidence that an earthquake at any time ever dislodged stones from these massive 5m (15 feet) thick Herodian retaining walls. If the earthquake of 363 AD did destroy the Western Wall, where is the evidence? The heap of fallen Herodian stones is only three meters (10 feet) high. No stones were ever added on top of this, as this Roman destruction was covered by a late Roman bath house and Byzantine street level and drain. The Roman floor level was later covered over by the floor of an Umayyad palace. If the Western Wall was destroyed in 363 AD, then a large pile of stones would have been found on top of the Roman bath house and Byzantine street level which would have been completely destroyed, but no sign of this was found.
It is no wonder that “Gibson’s theory has been vehemently rejected by many.” Happily he said: “If I am wrong, then I am wrong. Life will go on.” I wish him all the best for the new year but think it unlikely that his proposal will cause an earthquake in how we understand this, one of the most significant and moving discoveries of the Temple Mount Excavations.
Today, the Israel Antiquities Authority revealed the “Rare Archaeological Find from the History of Jerusalem”, which we mentioned in yesterday’s blog post. It turns out to be a Roman inscription dating from 129/130 AD. It was dedicated by the 10th Legion (Fretensis ) to Hadrian, the Roman Emperor who rebuilt Jerusalem in 135 AD and renamed it Aelia Capitolina.
According to a report in Arutz Sheva, the inscription may be among “the most important Latin inscriptions ever discovered in Jerusalem.” The stone was found in secondary use as part of the cover of a deep cistern, hence the semi-circular hole that allowed the drawing of water.
The stone that bears the inscription is actually the second part of an original inscription. The first part had already been discovered in Jerusalem by Clermont-Ganneau in the middle of the 19th century and is exhibited in the courtyard of the Studium Biblicum Fransciscanum Museum on the Via Dolorosa just inside the Lions (St. Stephen’s) Gate:Putting the two inscriptions together, the complete inscription reads:
“To the Imperator Caesar Traianus Hadrianus Augustus, son of the deified Traianus Parthicus, grandson of the deified Nerva, high priest, invested with tribunician power for the 14th time, consul for the third time, father of the country (dedicated by) the 10th legion Fretensis Antoniniana.”
After the Roman destruction of 70 A.D., the 10th Legion set up an encampment south of the Hippicus Tower on the Western Hill of Jerusalem. After nationalistic uprisings, Hadrian flattened the city and in 135 A.D. built a new one on its ruins and called it Aelia Capitolina.
The major buildings are the Damascus Gate in the north, a Temple of Aphrodite, two forums (market places) and there may have been a Temple of Jupiter on the Temple Mount.
A new drawing of the Temple Mount during the time of Aelia Capitolina has been made for our new guide book:
Some historical sources indicate that during this Roman period, a sanctuary to Jupiter was erected on the Temple Mount as were two dedicatory columns with statues of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius. The remains of three long steps that are no longer visible but were marked on Warren’s plans, may have belonged to the southern part of the crepidoma (stepped platform) of this presumed temple. Jews were forbidden from entering the city on pain of death and Hadrian tried further to erase their connection to the Land by changing the name of Judea to Syria Palaestina (whence the name Palestine).
This drawing is one in the series that shows the history of Mount Moriah in the different historical phases starting at the time of Abraham. In future posts we will refer to other drawings in this series.
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:
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:
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:
“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.