Whenever the Western media report on archaeology in Jerusalem, they generally refer to excavations as controversial and discoveries as inconclusive. Consider the 60 Minutes report that aired this past Sunday: “Controversy in Jerusalem: The City of David.” It’s controversial for Jews to purchase homes, build parks or excavate in the ancient City of David, we learn from the report, because there is an Arab neighborhood there that might be included in a future Palestinian state.
While visiting the City of David, CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl seemed bothered by the large number of Israeli soldiers who visit the park.
“It’s part of their cultural day to try to learn about what they’re fighting for,” explained Doron Spielman, the site’s international director of development.
But Stahl doesn’t see it that way at all. She accused Israel of using the archaeology site as a political tool to indoctrinate its soldiers. There is an “implicit message” in what tour guides tell the many thousands of visitors, Stahl explained—“that because David conquered the city for the Jews back then, Jerusalem belongs to the Jews today.”
Of course, there is nothing implied or sneaky about the way Jews explain their own history. David did conquer the city of Jerusalem 3,000 years ago. Jerusalem did serve as the capital of an internationally renowned kingdom during the reigns of David and his son Solomon. Even after the kingdom of Israel divided, Jerusalem remained as capital of the southern kingdom of Judah for more than three centuries.
The Davidic dynasty in Jerusalem ended in 585 B.C.E., after the Babylonians, led by King Nebuchadnezzar, attacked the city and destroyed the temple Solomon had built. The people of Judah, the Bible relates, were carried away captive out of their own land (Jeremiah 52:27).
Seventy years later, King Cyrus of Persia commissioned a small band of Jews, during the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, to return to Jerusalem in order to rebuild the temple and the walls surrounding the city (2 Chronicles 36:22-23). Ezra records a total of 42,360 Jewish exiles who left Babylon for Jerusalem in order to help rebuild the city.
During the Second Temple period, the Jews living in the Holy Land were granted autonomy within the Persian Empire. Their independence, however, came under constant fire from Hellenistic invaders and, later, the Romans.
In 37 B.C.E., the Roman Empire installed Herod as king over Judea. A little more than 40 years later, Judea became a Roman province. The Jewish presence in Jerusalem, however, remained strong for much of the first century. In C.E. 70, however, the Jews were scattered abroad when Roman forces razed the city of Jerusalem and destroyed the temple entirely.
The Jews briefly wrested control of Jerusalem from Rome during the Bar Kochba revolt in C.E. 132-135. But the Romans eventually squashed the rebellion and expelled all Jews from the city. Since then, control over Jerusalem has repeatedly changed hands. Constantine turned it into a Christian center during the fourth century. Muslim armies invaded the city in the seventh century. Crusaders conquered it in 1099. The Mamluks from Egypt ruled Jerusalem beginning in 1250, before the Ottoman Turks began their four-century rule over the city in 1517. Britain conquered Jerusalem in 1917 and ruled the city until 1948 when, in accordance with a United Nations resolution, the Jews declared independence as the nation of Israel and made Jerusalem their capital city.
“Since the destruction of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said in a recent speech, “nobody’s ever declared Jerusalem as their capital. None—not the Crusaders, the Jordanians, the Turks, the Brits, the Mamluks—none of them have ever declared Jerusalem as their capital. Only the Jewish people.”
This is because the Jews alone have always laid claim to Jerusalem as their historic capital, dating back to the days of King David. This history, which predates the establishment of Christianity by 1,000 years—and Islam by 1,700 years—is rooted in the Hebrew Bible, where Jerusalem is referred to more than 650 times.
Small wonder, then, that wherever archaeologists dig in Israel today, they nearly always uncover Israelite artifacts and history!
For CBS, though, these findings are sparse and inconclusive. Lesley Stahl said, “It’s controversial that the City of David uses discoveries to try to confirm what’s in the Bible, particularly from the time of David, the king who made Jerusalem his capital.”
What archaeologists have found in Jerusalem from the time of King David just doesn’t add up, CBS said in its report. For all the talk about King David, Stahl asserts, there is actually “no evidence” of his rule in Jerusalem!
In fact, the evidence is piling higher by the day. In 1986, for example, Dr. Eilat Mazar found a large stone gateway complex between the Temple Mount and the City of David. It was constructed sometime during the First Temple period and probably served as one of the main entrances to the temple buildings constructed by Solomon.
In 1993, a team of archaeologists digging in northern Israel uncovered a ninth-century B.C.E. stone tablet bearing a clear reference to the “House of David” and “King of Israel.” The author of the inscription boasts of having defeated both the king of Israel and the king of Judah—the latter monarch being a descendant of the “House of David.” Even Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberstein—two notable skeptics, when it comes to archaeological discoveries that confirm the biblical record—could not ignore the significance of the Tel Dan tablet. They wrote in 2001, “Thus, the house of David was known throughout the region; this clearly validates the biblical description of a figure named David becoming the founder of the dynasty of Judahite kings in Jerusalem.”
A year after the Tel Dan stele was found, a French scholar examining the Moabite Stone in the Louvre Museum discovered another reference to the “House of David.” On the stone, Mesha, the king of Moab mentioned in 2 Kings 3, is praised for capturing territory previously controlled by the “House of David.”
A year after the Moabite Stone made headlines, in 1995, a construction crew broke ground on a new visitors’ center above the Gihon Springs at the City of David. Not long after they started the project, workers were startled to find a wealth of archaeological remains buried just beneath the surface. Construction was immediately halted in favor of a massive archaeological dig.
Excavations later unearthed the remains of a massive fortress compound built during the Jebusite age, before David conquered the city. Towers were built to defend the city’s principle water supply at the Gihon Springs. These excavations also confirmed that the vast underground water system, leading from the springs to inside the walled city, actually pre-dated David. This is significant because the Bible says King David’s forces conquered the Jebusite fortress by sneaking into the city through a tunnel (2 Samuel 5:8).
Three centuries after David captured the Jebusite fortress that became ancient Jerusalem, one of his descendants, King Hezekiah of Judah, carved another tunnel into the rock beneath the City of David—this one 1,700 feet in length. According to 2 Chronicles 32, Hezekiah built the tunnel to protect Jerusalem’s water supply in case King Sennacherib’s Assyrian forces attacked from the north. The “conduit” is also mentioned in 2 Kings 20:20 and is corroborated by Sennacherib’s own written account of his campaign to conquer Jerusalem.
In 1880, a Jewish boy discovered an inscription carved inside the tunnel that reads,
“While the excavators were still lifting up their picks, each toward his fellow, and while there were yet three cubits to excavate, there was heard the voice of one calling to another, for there was a crevice in the rock, on the right hand. And on the day they completed the boring, the stonecutters struck pick against pick, one against the other, and the water flowed from the spring to the pool.”
Hezekiah’s tunnel, which is one of the most popular tourist sites in Jerusalem today, was cut through the bedrock underneath the City of David more than 2,700 years ago by a king who descended from the house of David.
Another popular site to see at the City of David is the palace of King David. That project started in the mid-1990s when Eilat Mazar noticed this important detail from 2 Samuel 5:17: “Now when the Philistines heard that they had anointed David king over Israel, all the Philistines went up to search for David. And David heard of it and went down to the stronghold” (New King James Version). This, Dr. Mazar surmised, indicated that David’s palace stood on higher ground than the Jebusite fortress he barricaded himself into.
Based upon the biblical account, we know that once David conquered the Jebusite city, he took up residence in the stronghold—or the fortress at the north end of the city. He then set out to enlarge the city limits, beginning with the construction of a new palace (2 Samuel 5:9-11).
Not long after David completed his palace, the Philistines attacked. And since the new palace may not have been fortified strongly enough to withstand a direct attack, David went downto the citadel, which was safer.
Dr. Mazar published her theory in Biblical Archaeology Review in January 1997. She wrote,
“Careful examination of the biblical text combined with sometimes unnoticed results of modern archaeological excavations in Jerusalem enable us, I believe, to locate the site of King David’s palace. Even more exciting, it is in an area that is now available for excavation. If some regard as too speculative the hypothesis I shall put forth in this article, my reply is simply this: Let us put it to the test in the way archaeologists always try to test their theories—by excavation.”
In 2005, Dr. Mazar finally obtained financial backing for the project and began excavating an area measuring about 300 square meters at the north end of the City of David. She later uncovered the remains of a “Large Stone Structure”—a wall running east-west that she believed to be the northern facade of David’s palace.
Only 10 percent of the structure was exposed during the first phase of digging. But it was enough for Mazar to conclude that this was not just a house—but a “fantastic house.” Her most revealing conclusion, however, is drawn from the relationship between the Large Stone Structure and the Stepped Stone Structure on the city’s northeastern slope: “It can already be said with some certainty that the two are part of a single, enormous building complex. The Stepped Stone Structure, so it appears, was built as a gigantic, well-devised supportive structure that allowed for the erecting of a great podium on which the Large Stone Structure, which is identified with King David’s palace, would be built” (The City of David Excavations, 2005).
Within the palace, Dr. Mazar also found a bulla bearing the inscription, “Jehucal, son of Shelemiah.” He is mentioned in Jeremiah 37 and 38 as being a royal officer in the court of King Zedekiah, the last king of Judah to rule in Jerusalem.
The Jehucal bulla is not the only inscription found that is directly related to the Davidic dynasty. In 1982, the late Yigal Shiloh found a collection of 53 bullae located at the bottom of the Stepped Stone Structure, just below the palace platform Dr. Mazar has been excavating. One bulla from Shiloh’s collection was inscribed with the Hebrew name, “Gemariah son of Shaphan,” who is mentioned in Jeremiah 36:10. He was one of the princes of Judah during Jehoiakim’s reign. His father, Shaphan, worked for King Josiah (2 Kings 22:3).
Writing in 2005, Dr. Mazar noted, “The congruity of the biblical text with the names of these two officials [Gemariah and Jehucal] appearing on bullae from the City of David is not only astounding but, more importantly, instructive on the great importance and accuracy of the biblical source.”
In 2007, Dr. Mazar began an emergency dig near the top of the Stepped Stone Structure in order to repair a collapsing tower. As we have written before, what started as a reconstruction project quickly turned into a fascinating collection of new discoveries. Under the tower, she found a rich assemblage of pottery and other finds. After dating the pottery, Mazar concluded that the tower must have been built by Nehemiah after the Jews returned from Babylonian captivity to rebuild the temple and repair the walls around Jerusalem.
Included underneath Nehemiah’s tower were numerous remains and artifacts, including another bulla—this one bearing the name “Gedaliah the son of Pashur.” He was one of Jeremiah’s chief accusers who served in King Zedekiah’s administration. He is mentioned in Jeremiah 38.
It seems there’s no end to the many astounding discoveries that continue to turn up! And to think—Jerusalem has been besieged by Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Muslims, Crusaders, Mamluks, Turks and Brits. It’s been repeatedly ransacked and pillaged, burned and torn down, buried by heaps of ruins—even purged of its Jewish inhabitants.
And yet, the deeper archaeologists go, the more Jewish history they uncover! It’s astounding when you think of it.