The Gamla Synagogue

The ESV Study Bible has now started a blog and today an interesting post was put up about the Gamla Synagogue. When I first started to work for the ESV Study Bible, I was shown a beautiful reconstruction painting of this synagogue which had a red tiled roof. The artist did not know that roof tiles were only introduced to the Land of Israel in the Roman period and were much used in the Byzantine period. Most of the roofs of churches and synagogues at that time had pitched roofs, covered with tiles.

Not so, however, during the Herodian period, when the Gamla Synagogue was built. Some tiles may have been imported for large public buildings, but most of the roofs were flat, especially in the Golan where wood is scarce. In 1973, just after the Yom Kippur War, I was asked to accompany a group of IDF archaeologists, who were doing a survey in the territory that had been newly captured from Syria. It was here that I was first introduced to buildings made of basalt blocks. Not only the walls, but the door and window frames were all made of basalt stones and the roof was made of long basalt slabs, which rested on corbels which projected from the walls.

I was quite sure that the Gamla Synagogue had a similar flat roof and that is what it shown in the drawing below (used by permission). As an interesting aside and as mentioned in a previous blog, this type of roof construction would explain how the paralytic man could have been let down through the “tiling” (Luke 5.19) in order to be healed by Jesus. It is more than likely that the roof of the house in Capernaum, where the houses were also made of basalt, was made of long basalt slabs laid at a short distance from each other and which were then covered with flat basalt tiles. After removing these tiles and taking away the basalt cross beams, a space would have been created large enough to let a man down through.

A similar flat roof construction would have been used in the Gamla Synagogue. It has been a privilege to have worked with the ESV Study Bible and Maltings Partnership and the painting below is the result of our joint endeavors:gamla-synagogue.jpg

Jerusalem reconstruction drawings

In the middle of this promotional movie for the new ESV Study Bible (available from 15 October, 2008), you can see my reconstructions of Jerusalem and the Temple in the various periods and which have been painted beautifully by Maltings Partnership, U.K.

First you see the City of David, followed by Solomon’s Jerusalem and Temple. You can then view Jerusalem in the time of Nehemiah, followed by Herodian Jerusalem and the spectacular Temple Mount and also zoom in to the Temple itself.

Here is the video:

The Temple Mount gates

Tonight, Friday the 1st of August, is also the beginning of the Hebrew month Ab. On the 9th of this month the Jews remember the destruction of the two temples that stood on Mount Moriah, but tonight, they march around the gates of the Temple Mount to express their desire is to build a new Temple.

The ceremony is called “Sivuv She’arim” – going round the gates – and this is the seventh year that they have marched round the gates of the Temple Mount. You can read the Jerusalem Post report here.

The founder of Sivuv She’arim, Rabbi Tzvi Rogin, used to visit our home, when we lived in Yorkshire, and we had many animated discussions about the Temple Mount. Our family once participated in this ceremony and it was an exhilarating experience.

For those of you who don’t know all the Temple Mount gates, here is a drawing showing their location:


The original names of the gates of the Herodian Temple Mount walls are not known. They possibly never had names.

Today we refer to the gates in the Western Wall (from north to south) as Warren’s Gate, Wilson’s Arch (which was part of a bridge and led to a gate which was built into the western portico), Barclay’s Gate and Robinson’s Arch – which supported a stairway leading to a gate, which was also built into the western portico. Warren, Wilson, Barclay and Robinson were explorers, who worked in Jerusalem in the late 1800’s.

There are two Herodian gates in the Southern Wall, the Double Gate and the Triple Gate. These gates are sometimes erroneously called the Huldah Gates, for these were located on the Temple Mount and were not part of the Herodian retaining walls.

There were two gates in the Eastern Wall, a small gate near the south-east corner, which led into what is now called the Solomon’s Stables and the main eastern gate, which was located where the Golden Gate now stands. Inside this gate are two monolithic gate posts which belonged to the earlier Shushan Gate.

There may have been another Herodian gate in the northern wall, but no remains have been found and it is only once mentioned by Josephus.

The earlier square Temple Mount, which was originally constructed by King Hezekiah, had five gates and their names are known. In the west was the Coponius Gate, the two gates in the southern wall were called the Huldah Gates. We have already mentioned the Shushan Gate in the eastern wall and the gate in the northern wall was called the Tadi Gate. This gate may have been buried underground by the Herodian expansion to the north.

Golgotha and the Tomb of Christ

Over the last 9 months, I have been working as archaeological and architectural editor for the new ESV Study Bible, which will be available from 15 October 2008. Most of my contacts have been with Justin Taylor, who was the Project Director and Managing Editor. Recently, he interviewed me concerning two drawings, which I had been asked to prepare for the Study Bible.

The two-part interview concerning Calvary and the Tomb of Christ can be viewed on his blog here and here.

Israel in June

Before our visit recedes into memory, we must put down some of the impressions that readers have asked for. June was a good time to visit the Land from the point of view of not having to compete with other groups for space on site visits – on some sites such as Kursi and Gamla in the Galilee, we had the place totally to ourselves. And, our northern base of Ein Gev was pure rest and rejuvenation (when we returned from our days out!), as the place had not yet been transformed into a hive of family activity for the school holidays. However, the light is harsher for photography than earlier in the year and this is perhaps the downside to going in early summer, which is otherwise so good, being the prime time for digging and, of course, great for swimming in the Dead, the Med and the Red. We did get some great pics however. Here is our group at the Ophir Observation Point, high above the Sea of Galilee:


Below is the Tel Gezer dig we visited and where we met up with archaeologist Daniel Warner (in green shirt) among others:

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Jerusalem was even more chaotic than we remembered, with honking, hooting and sirens 24/7. We were very thankful to have an oasis of calm in the midst of it with a jumbo-sized balcony offering panoramic, golden, views of Mount Zion and the Old City. On the left is the night view from our balcony and on the right the view from the arched entrance to our guesthouse:



From the perspective of an archaeological architect, the thing that made the most impression on me was the much greater prevalence of reconstruction drawings on sites than in times past. Knowing how much these enhance any visit to an archaeological site, this was deeply satisfying.

We saw good reconstructions at the City of David, the Temple Mount Excavations, Masada, Tel Gezer, Bethsaida, etc, but the sparkler in the crown was definitely the new Time Trek at the Caesarea Harbor Experience, which so enthralled the young folk in our party. You have to pay extra on top of the normal site fees in order to visit this, but the NIS17 is definitely worth it. Here, with funds from a trust set up by Baron Edmond de Rothschild in the early twentieth century, a new, whiz-bang, multi-media experience, takes you through episodes of the city’s dramatic history.

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Reconstructions showing things like a horse race in Herod’s hippodrome and ships entering his magnificent harbour create an unforgettable evocation of another time. (The site’s website seems to only work in Hebrew <>). Hopefully, other sites in the country will benefit from such an injection of funds and vision.


The Temple Mount – new discoveries from the time of King Hezekiah (cont.)

The drawing below explains the location of the stones I blogged about yesterday. The drawing shows the eastern wall of the Temple Mount as it existed in the time of King Herod. The black line at the bottom of the drawing shows the suggested ground level at that time. The green line indicates the ground level of today and the colored parts show the existing remains. The northern and southern parts (yellow) of the eastern wall are Herodian, the red section dates to the Hasmonean period and the central (blue) section is the oldest part of the wall.

On either side of the Golden Gate, two stones courses can be seen, which, according to my analysis of the Temple Mount, date to the time of King Hezekiah, who expanded not only the city, but the Temple Mount as well. The two newly identified stones in the southern part are only 4 stone courses lower than those near the Golden Gate. The stone courses below must therefore belong to that period as well, if not earlier.
This drawing also shows that the general level of preservation dips from north to south and that the preserved remains of the central and oldest section of the eastern wall are most likely located just below ground level.

The Temple Mount – new discoveries from the time of King Hezekiah

A couple of weeks ago, we spent some time in Israel with our family, visiting places which are dear to us. Following up on a lead, I used some of that time to investigate a particular section in the eastern wall of the Temple Mount. In the picture below, you can see me photographing two massive stones, which are located 77m (253 feet) north of the south east corner. These stones are similar in size and shape to the ones that can be seen on either side of the Golden Gate. I have dated this masonry to the time of King Hezekiah’s expansion of the Temple Mount in about 700 B.C. (See The Quest, p. 174-178; 191-193). King Hezekiah had built massive retaining walls round the courtyards of King Solomon’s Temple to create a square platform of 500 cubits.


We were being watched from above by a policeman, who was not too happy as he thought that we might be desecrating some tombs.


On the first stone, in the picture below left, you can clearly see the margin and the rough bulging boss which is typical of Iron Age Temple Mount masonry. The two stones are resting on other similar stones, as far as one can see. The stones are located 4 m (13 feet) north of the so-called Mohammed’s Pillar, where I had placed the south east corner of King Hezekiah’s square Temple platform (see picture below right). It is exciting to be so close to the original south east corner and yet so far away. If one only could excavate a few meters down at that point, I’m sure that the south east corner of the square Temple Mount will be found!

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The diagram below shows all the accumulated archaeological evidence for the outer walls of the 500 cubit square Temple Mount:


The discovery of this new section of ancient stones in the eastern wall of the Temple Mount confirms the location of the pre-Herodian Temple Mount and is an exciting addition to the many new discoveries being made these days to show that the Temple Mount, as we know it today, is indeed the place where the Temples of Solomon, Hezekiah, Zerubbabel and Herod once stood.

ESV Study Bible

I was interested to see, in my daily Google Alert for the Temple Mount, on James Grant’s blog, that the new ESV Study Bible, for which I have been providing illustrations, now has its own webpage, launched by Crossways, its publisher. It is worthwhile having a look at the sample pages. Having worked with Justin Taylor, the Project Director and Managing Editor, for the last half year, with graphics winging their way for checking and correction from Wheaton, Illinois to Adelaide in Australia, and latterly to Cardiff in Wales, I can’t wait to see the final product, due out in October of this year.

The whole “painstaking process of research and refinement”, to use Justin’s words, has caused me to look into problems which I had not previously addressed. In particular, the discoveries in Jerusalem over the last few years, especially in the City of David, made it necessary for me to produce completely new reconstruction drawings of Jerusalem in the various periods – a very exciting project indeed! I have also enjoyed working with Maltings Partnership, who have rendered my drawings into works of tremendous beauty.

International Conference on the Temple of Jerusalem in New York

During May 11-12, 2008, a conference is planned in New York on the Temple of Jerusalem. The models of the Tabernacle, Solomon’s and Herod’s Temples, which I designed, will be displayed there. I am also one of the speakers, giving a lecture on “The Academic and Creative Process of Archaeological Model Making.”

More info later.

Herodian drain found in Jerusalem

It has been reported in the media (see for example BBC news and the Jerusalem Post) that excavators Ronnie Reich and Eli Shukrun have excavated a large section of the drain that was located just below the Herodian street. This drain was constructed, so that the rain water that fell on the street and the liquid sewage of adjacent buildings could be disposed off. Here is a picture of the drain (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti):


Parts of this drain have been investigated by Charles Warren (1867-1870) and other sections have been excavated by Bliss and Dickie (1894-1897), Johns (1934), Kathleen Kenyon (1961-1967) and Benjamin Mazar (1968-1978). The section found by Mazar below Robinson’s Arch was vaulted and believed to have been a relay of the original drain which had been cut by the south-west corner of Herod’s temple Mount, see this picture from The Quest, p.56:


Warren also investigated a much earlier drain, lower down in the Tyropoeon Valley, so that we know of two different drainage systems. Together with the relay mentioned above, there are three different phases in this drainage system, which indicate three different building phases in the construction of the Temple Mount, see The Quest, pp. 233-235.

The present excavators have not yet provided a map of the excavated drain, but only said that is was between the Temple Mount and the Siloam Pool. In the 1890’s, Bliss and Dickie discovered a large section of the Herodian street near and to the north of the Siloam Pool. This section alone shows that the main street, which, we believe began at the Damascus Gate and followed the Tyropoeon Valley and exited at the South Gate – see map below. On this map we have plotted the street section that was found by Bliss and Dickie in grey with the drain in red:


As the excavators have been digging in the vicinity of the Siloam Pool, the newly found drain is likely to be located just north of the pool. This find received a lot of media coverage because of the remarks made by the excavators that this drain may have been used by people who tried to escape the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.