Seals of Jeremiah’s Captors Discovered

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Discovered in 1998 in the City of David, this cistern dates to the First Temple period. Some archaeologists believe it is the dungeon into which Judah’s princes cast the Prophet Jeremiah.
City of David Foundation
Gerald Flurry, founder of the Armstrong International Cultural Foundation

Dear visitor,

Welcome! We are thrilled to be able to share these precious artifacts, and the remarkable history of ancient Israel. The artifacts you see on this page were a part of a major exhibit at our Performing Arts Center Armstrong Auditorium in Edmond, Oklahoma. Now that the exhibit has ended, we are pleased to produce an online version of the exhibit.

Biblical history is a fascinating and important subject. These relics bring to life the magnificence of ancient Israel under King Solomon, the heartache of Judah’s captivity and Jerusalem’s destruction, and the impressive faith and courage of the Prophet Jeremiah.

We would like to express our deepest gratitude to Dr. Eilat Mazar for her vital contributions to this exhibit. Were it not for the tireless efforts of Dr. Mazar and her late grandfather, Prof. Benjamin Mazar, many of these artifacts, including the bullae, would lay undiscovered in the soil of Jerusalem.

We treasure our long history with the Mazar family and consider it a tremendous blessing to have been by her and her grandfather’s side these past 48 years. We stand ready, spade in hand, to support Dr. Mazar as she continues to uncover the secrets of ancient Jerusalem.

Gerald Flurry

Founder and Chairman

Armstrong International Cultural Foundation

United Kingdom

United Kingdom of Israel and Judah
Watch Jerusalem

King David ruled Israel from the city of Hebron for 7½ years (circa 1007 b.c.). Although the Israelites had entered Canaan 400 years prior, one central city continued to be occupied by Canaanites: Jerusalem. The city was so well-fortified that the Jebusites who lived there boasted that “the blind and the lame” could defend it.

King David hated that the enemy dwelt in the heart of Israel and offered to reward the man who conquered the city. One of his nephews, Joab, infiltrated Jerusalem through a water duct connected to the Gihon Spring. He and his men unlocked the city gates, and David’s army at last conquered the Jebusite stronghold.

David adopted the city as his new capital, naming it the City of David. He also called it Zion, after its majestic appearance and resemblance to the fortress of God in the heavens. King David augmented the city walls and constructed his palace next to the northern wall. With his capital secure, the king purged Israel of its remaining enemies and secured its expanded borders with well-buttressed cities. By the end of David’s reign, Israel was a formidable power and a kingdom at peace (2 Samuel 5).

Solomon’s Jerusalem

King David was on his deathbed when he orchestrated the coronation of his son, Solomon, by Zadok the priest beside the Gihon Spring. King Solomon continued his father’s policy of expansion and ruled over a period of unparalleled peace, prosperity and cultural enlightenment in Israel.

Solomon enlarged Jerusalem further, establishing his own magnificent palace and constructing another wall to protect the new buildings. Solomon stretched Israel’s borders north to the Euphrates River, east beyond the Jordan River, and south to the “brook of Egypt.” During Solomon’s reign, Israel was a rich, powerful and advanced kingdom. His extreme wealth included a well-equipped army, a stable of the finest horses, a menagerie of exotic animals, copper mines in Edom and a “navy of ships.”

But Solomon’s greatest triumph was the construction of the temple, a project initiated and extensively prepared for by his father, King David. The First Temple took seven years to build and was constructed with the aid of the Phoenicians—an industrious, seafaring people—legions of expert craftsmen, and tens of thousands of laborers. It was made from the finest materials, including thousands of tons of gold, silver, brass, precious stones, cedars of Lebanon and other fine woods, luxurious fabrics and even ivory from Africa.

The First Temple was dedicated around 960 b.c. It was the most magnificent edifice ever constructed and a testament to Solomon’s unrivaled power. “So king Solomon exceeded all the kings of the earth for riches and for wisdom.” Under Solomon, the city of Jerusalem, with the temple as its crown jewel, attracted visitors from around the world. Beholding this magnificent scene was such an inspiring experience, it caused the Queen of Sheba to faint (1 Kings 1, 10).

 1. Gihon SpringAs Jerusalem’s only reliable water source, the Gihon Spring is arguably its most important feature. The Hebrew word Gihon means “to gush forth.” The flow of water from the Gihon varies depending on the time of year and the volume of precipitation.

The Gihon has also played a prominent role in Israel’s history. For example, the coronation of King Solomon took place beside the spring. “So Zadok the priest … went down, and caused Solomon to ride upon king David’s mule, and brought him to Gihon. And Zadok the priest took an horn of oil out of the tabernacle, and anointed Solomon. And they blew the trumpet; and all the people said, God save king Solomon.” (1 Kings 1:38-39)

2. Hezekiah’s Tunnel Prior to the reign of King Hezekiah in the eighth century b.c., water from the Gihon Spring flowed into the Kidron Valley. This waterway was called the Siloam Channel. While the source of the spring itself was somewhat fortified by a projecting tower, any unused water flowed directly outside the tower walls. Should Israel be attacked, the enemy could easily take advantage of the large quantity of excess water for its own army and cavalry (2 Chronicles 32:4).

This problem was solved in the late eighth century B.C. when the Assyrians invaded Judah. Alarmed by the possibility of the Assyrians siphoning off the Gihon, King Hezekiah directed his engineers to construct an underground channel, diverting the water flowing in the Siloam Channel to a reservoir inside the city walls at the south side of the City of David (2 Kings 20:20). Hezekiah’s workers carved a 1,700-foot tunnel beneath the City of David.

The construction of Hezekiah’s tunnel (dug from both ends through solid rock and at a perfect gradient) is one of ancient Judah’s most remarkable accomplishments, and a testament to its advanced mathematical and engineering abilities.

3. Palace of David First unearthed by Dr. Eilat Mazar in 2005, the ancient palace of King David occupies the slope just north of the City of David, the former Jebusite city. Archaeologically, it is known as the Large Stone Structure. To this point, only about 20 percent of David’s palace has been excavated. Yet already, massive walls are visible, one of which is more than 20 feet wide. The Jucal (Jehucal) and Gedaliah bullae were discovered inside the walls of the palace of David.

4. Nehemiah’s Wall A large stone tower stands adjacent to the eastern wall of King David’s palace. Until recently, archaeologists believed the tower was built during the Hasmonean dynasty, in the first or second century b.c. Over the years, this tower has degenerated and showed signs that it may collapse. In the summer of 2007, Dr. Mazar and her team were assigned the task of repairing the tower.

What started as a simple assignment quickly became a six-week excavation, resulting in some fascinating discoveries. Under the tower, Dr. Mazar’s team discovered the bones of two large dogs, and under those bones, a rich assemblage of pottery and finds from the Persian period—the sixth and fifth centuries b.c.

This means that the tower was constructed during the middle of the Persian period—the exact time that the Bible records Nehemiah building his famous wall around Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3-6).

First Temple

  • The temple faced east and was 90 feet long, 30 feet wide and 45 feet tall. 100,000 talents of gold were used in its construction. By today’s value, that would be worth around $300 billion.
  • 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep were offered for sacrifice during the dedication of the temple.
  • The “molten sea,” a large basin used by priests for washing and cleansing, held 12,000 gallons of water, the equivalent of roughly 300 bathtubs.
  • The inner sanctuary of the temple, called the holy of holies, housed Israel’s most prized possession, the Ark of the Covenant. The ark was a symbol of God’s presence in Israel. It held a golden pot of manna, the rod of Aaron and the two tablets of the Ten Commandments.
  • Two golden cherubim stood in the holy of holies, one on each side of the ark. These symbols of divine protection were each 15 feet tall and had wingspans of 15 feet.
  • The high priest could only enter the holy of holies once a year, on the sacred Day of Atonement.

    Crossway ESV Bible Atlas

The Divided Kingdom

Following the death of King Solomon, the nation of Israel split into two kingdoms: Israel and Judah.
Watch Jerusalem

King Solomon died around 931 b.c. after reigning for 40 years. He was succeeded by his son Rehoboam. Israel’s new king levied painfully steep taxes, and the people revolted. Rehoboam maintained rule over the kingdom of Judah in the south, with Jerusalem as its capital. In the north, the kingdom of Israel—comprised of 10 of the tribes of Israel—made Jeroboam its king and established Tirzah, and later Samaria, as its capital.

God sent a series of prophets to warn the people.

King Jeroboam sought to cement his power over the secessionist northern kingdom by drawing the people’s hearts away from Jerusalem and the house of David. He fashioned two golden calves and led his people in worshiping new gods. The northern kingdom’s rapid descent into idolatry infuriated God, who sent a series of prophets to warn Israel. When the people refused to repent, God used the warlike Assyrians to punish the nation.

In 721 b.c., the army of Shalmaneser v besieged Israel. Within three years, the Assyrians had conquered the northern kingdom and enslaved the people, transporting them to the Black Sea region, from where they eventually migrated into northern Europe and Scandinavia. “Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only.”

Despite these shocking events, by the seventh century b.c. Judah too was slipping into idolatry. Sadly, the people had ignored the tragedy of what had happened to their brothers in the north. Again, God sent a series of prophets to warn the people of the inevitable consequences of their idolatrous ways. Among these loyal and courageous prophets was Jeremiah (1 Kings 12; 2 Kings 17).

Jeremiah

Ivan Burmistrov/iStockphoto

Jeremiah was born around 645 b.c. in Anathoth, a Levite city about three miles north of Jerusalem. He is unique among Old Testament personalities. The Bible reveals that his calling was so special and important that God set him apart from conception. “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee,” God told him, “and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”

Though his message was grim, the prophet also told the people of Judah that there was a way to escape.

Jeremiah was only about 17 years old at the time he heard this, and felt unqualified for such a responsibility. He protested, “Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child.” But God comforted the youth, telling him, “Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee.” The young prophet surrendered to God’s will, set out for Jerusalem, and began his 40-year ministry of delivering God’s warning to Judah (Jeremiah 1).

Jeremiah’s Warning to Judah

Jeremiah began warning during the 13th year of King Josiah’s reign, around 627 b.c. His warning intensified during the reigns of Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and particularly that of Judah’s last monarch, King Zedekiah. Jeremiah’s message was consistent and inescapably clear: He warned that God was raising up the Babylonian Empire to punish Judah for its idolatrous ways.

The third chapter of the book of Jeremiah details the prophet beseeching Judah to learn from the example of the nation of Israel, which had gone into Assyrian captivity around a hundred years earlier. Despite that horrific and fairly recent history, “treacherous … Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also” (Jeremiah 3:8).

By 604 b.c. Jeremiah had been warning Judah for 23 years. Exasperated but unwavering, he told King Jehoiakim that, since Judah had rejected the warning, God would send “Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon … and will bring [him] against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations round about, and will utterly destroy them …” (Jeremiah 25:8-9). Jehoiakim did not listen to Jeremiah’s message.

In 597 b.c. Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar installed Zedekiah as a puppet king and made him swear an oath of loyalty to Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:13).

Initially, Zedekiah was subservient to Babylon and civil to Jeremiah. But in his fourth year as king, Judah’s desire for independence from Babylon waxed strong. Jeremiah warned Zedekiah that Nebuchadnezzar would return and destroy Jerusalem. Though his message was grim, the prophet also told the people of Judah that there was a way to escape. The way to survive, he explained, was to surrender to King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians.

On one occasion Jeremiah told King Zedekiah: If you “bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, [you shall] live” (Jeremiah 27:12). He repeatedly relayed God’s word that the people could even thrive in Babylonian captivity.

Sadly, Jeremiah’s warning went unheeded by Judah’s rulers, its priests and nobility, and its people. Rather than turning many to safety, Jeremiah’s brave, faith-filled work almost got him killed.

Jeremiah vs. Judah’s Nobility

Jeremiah’s message was unpopular throughout Judah, but no group was as infuriated by it as the nation’s patriotic but faithless elite.

The Judahites were insulted at the prophet’s warnings, and some powerful men plotted against him: “Come, and let us devise devices against Jeremiah; for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, and let us smite him with the tongue, and let us not give heed to any of his words” (Jeremiah 18:18).

Jeremiah’s message was unpopular throughout Judah, but no group was as infuriated by it as the nation’s patriotic but faithless elite.

During Zedekiah’s 11-year reign, Judah’s nobles and false priests waged a campaign of slander against Jeremiah to undermine his message and intimidate him into silence. Over the prophet’s four decades of warning Judah, Jeremiah was routinely scoffed at and maligned, severely beaten and even imprisoned.

On one occasion a major confrontation occurred between Jeremiah and the “chief governor in the house of the Lord,” whose name was Pashur (Jeremiah 20:1). Pashur had Jeremiah beaten and locked in stocks overnight at a humiliating public location. Upon his release the next day, Jeremiah pronounced a curse on Pashur and his household, saying they would go into Babylonian captivity and die there (verse 6).

As Jerusalem’s destruction drew nearer, the tension between Jeremiah and the royal officials intensified, climaxing as the Babylonian army was besieging the city. This titanic battle between Jeremiah and Judah’s officials is recorded in Jeremiah 38.

This momentous chapter has been brought to life by Dr. Mazar’s landmark discoveries of the Jehucal and Gedaliah bullae.
A seal inscribed “Jehucal son of Shelemiah,”; mentioned in Jeremiah 37:3 and 38:1.
Gabri Laron/Hebrew University/Dr. Eilat Mazar

The chapter describes a cabal of ambitious members of King Zedekiah’s court confronting the Prophet Jeremiah. Verse 1 recalls that among this band of tormentors were “Gedaliah the son of Pashur, and Jucal [Jehucal] the son of Shelemiah.”

Both men were high-ranking officials in Zedekiah’s court, which explains why each had his own distinct seal impression. The implication is that Gedaliah was the son of the same Pashur whose household Jeremiah had cursed in the earlier encounter recorded in Jeremiah 20. If so, Pashur would have passed his hatred of Jeremiah along to his son, giving Gedaliah ample reason to seek the prophet’s death.

A seal inscribed “Gedaliah son of Pashur,” mentioned in Jeremiah 38:1.
Gabri Laron/Hebrew University/Dr. Eilat Mazar

Jeremiah’s message—that only those who surrendered to the Babylonians would live—infuriated the princes. Gedaliah and Jucal, along with their cohorts, yanked Jeremiah before King Zedekiah. They accused him of sedition, saying the prophet’s message was discouraging Judah’s soldiers and other residents: “We beseech thee, let this man be put to death: for thus he weakeneth the hands of the men of war …” (verse 4).

Zedekiah, whose habitual compromising had robbed him of all confidence in his power, capitulated. Thus, with the king’s consent, the princes “took … Jeremiah, and cast him into the dungeon … that was in the court of the prison: and they let down Jeremiah with cords. And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire: so Jeremiah sunk in the mire” (verse 6).

This cistern was designed to collect water during the rainy season to be consumed during the dry summers. At this time, though, it was filled not with water, but with thick mud and filth. The prophet sunk deep into it, gasping for air as the mud compressed his chest and lungs. By this method Gedaliah, Jucal and the other princes hoped to end Jeremiah’s life and silence his warnings—without having his blood directly on anyone’s hands.

The clash between Jeremiah and the princes would have ended there, with the prophet suffocating in a hole, were it not for divine intervention.

A eunuch in Zedekiah’s service, an Ethiopian named Ebedmelech, learned of the princes’ actions. Risking his life, this brave man went before Zedekiah and pleaded on Jeremiah’s behalf. With Zedekiah’s approval, Ebedmelech orchestrated a 30-man rescue effort to extricate Jeremiah from the mire. The loyal eunuch and his men gathered old clothes, bound them together to make a rope, and then heaved the starving, filthy, faith-filled prophet from the dungeon.

Jeremiah was returned to the prison in the palace, where he continued to trumpet God’s warning message to Judah in the final months before Jerusalem’s destruction.

Discovered in 1998 in the City of David, this cistern dates to the First Temple period. Some archaeologists believe it is the dungeon into which Judah’s princes cast the Prophet Jeremiah.
City of David Foundation

A Besieged City

By the late seventh century b.c., King Nebuchadnezzar had defeated his regional competitors, including Assyria and Egypt, and established Babylon as the world-ruling kingdom. According to the Babylonian Chronicle, Nebuchadnezzar conquered “all the kings of Hatti-land,” a region that included the land of Judah.

The Bible and other historical works recall the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem occurring in three stages spread over 19 years.

The first stage occurred in 604 b.c. During this invasion, thousands of Judahites, including the young Prophet Daniel, were captured and taken back to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar made Judah a vassal state and forced King Jehoiakim to pay him tribute. After about three years, Jehoiakim, ignoring repeated warnings from the Prophet Jeremiah, rebelled against his Babylonian overlord.

King Nebuchadnezzar’s swift reaction marked the second phase of Jerusalem’s subjugation. He deployed his army to subdue Judah’s rebellion. King Jehoiakim was killed. His son, Jehoiachin, ruled for only three months before Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, stripped the temple, and deported Judah’s king and 10,000 of its citizens to Babylon. In 597 b.c., Nebuchadnezzar set up Zedekiah as a puppet king and forced him to swear allegiance to Babylon.

King Zedekiah paid homage to Nebuchadnezzar for nine years. But in 588 b.c. he rebelled, causing Babylon’s king to return to Jerusalem for the third and final phase of his conquest.

The Babylonian army besieged the city for two years. During this time, food and water were scarce, and many people starved to death. Still, the inhabitants of Jerusalem refused to heed Jeremiah’s message. Finally, in 586 b.c. the Babylonian army completed giant earthen ramps to overrun the city walls, and the invaders poured into Jerusalem. Just as Jeremiah had warned, the Babylonians reduced the city to blood-stained rubble. In the process, they destroyed the temple, pillaged its wealth, then torched it.

King Zedekiah tried to escape, but he was captured. Babylonian soldiers made the king watch as they slaughtered his sons; then they put out his eyes, bound him in chains and carted him off to Babylon to work as a slave. The king of Israel died a miserable death in Babylonian captivity (2 Kings 24, 2 Chronicles 36, Jeremiah 39).

Jeremiah’s Miraculous Escape

Jerusalem was decimated. The Babylonians destroyed its walls, leveled the temple, killed thousands, and took Judah’s leading citizens captive.

The Prophet Jeremiah was right in the middle of this horrific scene and yet miraculously survived. In fact, the Jewish prophet received tremendous favor from King Nebuchadnezzar, who told the captain of his army to “take him, and look well to him, and do him no harm; but do unto him even as he shall say unto thee.”

The Babylonian commander did more than just protect Jeremiah: He supplied him with food and money and allowed the prophet and his diminutive entourage to travel where they pleased. Jeremiah went to Mizpah, where he collected King Zedekiah’s daughters. He stayed there for a short while, but was forcibly carried out of Judah and into Egypt by faithless Jews who ignored his warning not to go there.

Most of the Jews were killed by Babylonian armies in Egypt, but Jeremiah’s band, including a daughter of King Zedekiah, escaped back to Judah. Biblical and historic records indicate that Jeremiah embarked from Judah on a journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Spain, then eventually into Ireland.

Among the ancient annals testifying to this history, Irish records say that around 569 b.c., “A wise, holy man from the East came to [Ireland], bringing with him his scribe, also a beautiful princess, daughter of a king.” Besides the royal daughter, a descendant of King David, ancient records say that Jeremiah also took to Ireland a harp, an ark, and a stone called lia-fail, or “the stone of destiny.”

Jeremiah’s move to Ireland completed stage one and marked the beginning of stage two in his epic lifelong mission(Jeremiah 38, 39, 43).

Stone of Destiny

The stone of destiny, stone of Scone, or lia-fail, is “the celebrated stone, identified in Irish legend with the stone on which the patriarch Jacob slept when he dreamed of the heavenly ladder. The lia-fail was … brought to Ireland by the Dé Dananns and set up at Tara as the ‘inauguration stone’ of the Irish kings; it was subsequently removed to Scone where it became the coronation stone of the Scottish kings, until it was taken by James vi of Scotland to Westminster and placed under the coronation chair in the Abbey, where it has since remained.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Edition (1911).

Bullae

The Gedaliah and Jehucal bullae
Courtesy of Eilat Mazar
  • A bulla (plural bullae) is a small piece of clay stamped with a distinct impression. In ancient times a bulla was attached to a cord or string, which was then wrapped around a papyrus scroll.
  • Each bulla, or clay seal impression, bore the distinct signature and therefore the authority of the one sealing the document.
  • Generally, only royalty, nobility and some high-ranking ministers in government had their own unique seal impression.
  • Once the scroll had been wrapped with string it would be sealed with a small glob of moist clay, which was then stamped and left to dry.
  • Many of the bullae that have been discovered in Jerusalem were exposed to fire during its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 b.c. This firing helped preserve the clay, causing it to harden further and remain intact and legible more than 2,500 years after being made.

Dr. Eilat Mazar | Archaeologist

Eilat Mazar
Courtesy Eilat Mazar

“The exceptionality of the discovery is fully appreciated only when holding the two bullae in hand: two small seal impressions inscribed on clay objects only 1 cm across, now laying before our eyes unblemished after having been buried in rubble of the Babylonian destruction for precisely 2,595 years, the names they bear still clearly legible.

Only on precious, rare occasions do archaeologists experience discoveries such as this one, where figures from the annals of history materialize themselves so tangibly.”

Artifacts

Pithoi

The fragments of this pithos (and 11 others) were discovered on the floor of a large royal building on the Ophel (the hill-mound directly north of David’s palace). The pithoi were crushed and buried when the building was destroyed during the Babylonian takeover in 586 b.c.

Figureheads

These figurines are known as column or pillar figurines. This is because their body was made on a pottery wheel, which makes them look like columns, while their head is made from a mold. The large breasts on these figurines indicate that they were fertility idols. In ancient pagan worship, infertile females desperate for “divine intervention” would seek out such idols. The high number of these models discovered in ancient Jerusalem indicates that they served as a common icon.

These figurines were usually covered in white slip (paint) and decorated in black and red, with special detail emphasizing hair, eyes, jewelry and dress. Traces of such color appear on the heads in this exhibit.

LMLK

These seal impressions bear the Hebrew word lmlk in ancient script, embossed on the top of the impression. This word, pronounced “l’melech,” means “belonging to the king.” Two of these handles in our display were found in excavations on the Ophel mound; the third was discovered at Lachish, south of Jerusalem.

Below the line of ancient text is a picture of either a four-winged beetle or a two-winged sun. These represent royal Judahite insignia. The last line of inscription on lmlk jar handles has one of four cities mentioned: either Hebron, Ziph, Socoh or Mmst (an unknown city).

The jars these impressions were found on generally had a narrow neck, small base and wide shoulders with four handles equally spaced at the top of the vessel. They typically had a volume of 12 to 14 gallons. The vessels would have been suitable for any of the three staples of the land: grain, wine or oil.

Thanks mainly to the painstaking excavations at Lachish and Tel Batash, as well as the recent discovery of the Hezekiah bulla (made after this exhibit took place), these impressions can be dated specifically to the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah, around the time of Sennacherib’s Assyrian invasion at the end of the eighth century b.c.

An Iron Bridge Partnership

Herbert W. Armstrong met with dozens of heads of state from Asia to Africa to Europe and beyond, but his greatest affection was for one tiny, new country at the heart of the world: Israel.

As a devoted student and teacher of the Bible, Mr. Armstrong cherished both the remarkable history and the glorious future of Jerusalem. Between 1967 and his death in 1986, Mr. Armstrong met with many prime ministers and presidents, including Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Navon, Moshe Dayan, Shimon Peres, Zalman Shazar, Yitzhak Shamir, Teddy Kollek, Moshe Kol and Hebrew University Professor Benjamin Mazar.

Herbert W. Armstrong and Prof. Benjamin Mazar

The ‘Big Dig’

Following Israel’s victory in the 1967 war, Prof. Mazar had been placed in charge of Hebrew University’s massive new archeological dig near the Temple Mount in 1968. Mr. Armstrong flew to Israel to meet with Mazar and was dazzled by the scope and importance of the excavation.

Soon after, Prof. Mazar, joined by Dean of Hebrew University’s Humanities Program Josef Aviram, traveled to America to tour Mr. Armstrong’s Ambassador College (AC) campuses in California and Texas. Meanwhile, Hebrew University was fielding offers from several major American universities that hoped to collaborate on the project. These offers were rejected, and AC was given a 50/50 joint partnership with Professor Mazar and Hebrew University.

The partnership was formalized on Dec. 1, 1968, at the presidential palace in Jerusalem where Tourism Minister Moshe Kol proposed “an iron bridge” between Hebrew University and Ambassador College “that can never be broken.”

Beginning in the summer of 1969, scores of AC students packed up and flew to Israel to volunteer on the excavation. The “big dig,” as it became known, would continue for 10 years and grant hundreds of Ambassador students the opportunity to touch that ancient history.

In addition to sending over students who were praised as the excavation’s most enthusiastic laborers, Ambassador College also shouldered half of the cost of excavations from 1968 until the conclusion of the dig in 1976.

As the years passed, the friendship between Benjamin Mazar and Herbert Armstrong blossomed. The two friends could often be seen walking arm in arm visiting the dig site, or relaxing at Mazar’s home in Jerusalem. Prof. Mazar also visited Ambassador College multiple times. On one occasion, Mr. Armstrong, Prof. Mazar, and Josef Aviram teamed up to host an archeological exhibit in Japan, where they met with Prince Mikasa.

Prof. Mazar and Mr. Armstrong shared many similar traits. Both were straight-talking and uncompromising. Both believed in the authority of the Bible and in objectively proving the truth, whatever it might be, rather than striving to force it into preconceived beliefs. In fact, Mazar was praised as a pioneer of a research discipline that fused archaeology, geography, and histories described in Jewish Scripture and other ancient Near Eastern sources. He was also noted for accurately reporting details about Jerusalem’s impressive Umayyad period under Muslim rule, impressing visiting Arab leaders with his candor.

When Prof. Mazar wrapped up his Temple Mount excavation in 1978, Mr. Armstrong continued to support archaeological efforts in the City of David.

When Mr. Armstrong died in January 1986, Prof. Mazar wrote: “During the years of our association with him, all of us developed the highest regard for his wonderful personality and qualities.

His deep devotion to the ideals of peace and justice in the spirit of the biblical prophets was appreciated by his friends in Israel. His feeling for Israel and Jerusalem was manifested in his true interest in the archaeological excavations near the Temple Mount and in the City of David. His name will always be attached to this most important undertaking carried out in Jerusalem.”

Ambassador College students participate in the “big dig” south of the Temple Mount in the 1970s. The archaeological excavation covered more than eight acres.
Watch Jerusalem

Restoring the Iron Bridge

During Benjamin Mazar’s excavations in the shadow of the Temple Mount, a young girl was often seen at his side, rubbing elbows with archaeologists and Ambassador College students. Her name was Eilat Mazar, the professor’s granddaughter.

Benjamin Mazar’s Temple Mount excavations ended in 1976, but a decade later, a second round of digging began there, this time under the direction of Eilat Mazar.

Meanwhile, back in the United States, the work of Herbert W. Armstrong was also being revived. When Mr. Armstrong died in January 1986, his successors abandoned his legacy, and within 10 years his globe-encompassing, multimillion-dollar humanitarian work was practically dead, the work in Israel abandoned. But in December 1989, his legacy was revived when a new organization was founded by Gerald Flurry.

In 1996, Mr. Flurry established the Armstrong International Cultural Foundation, a humanitarian organization patterned after Mr. Armstrong’s Ambassador International Cultural Foundation. The foundation began supporting humanitarian ventures in Jordan and Israel.

In the summer of 2005, the world of archaeology was rocked when Dr. Eilat Mazar announced that her team had unearthed a huge public building in the ancient City of David which dated to the 10th century b.c.—the palace of King David!

Gerald Flurry read about Dr. Mazar’s landmark discovery with keen interest, and was thrilled to learn that Eilat Mazar was the granddaughter of Prof. Benjamin Mazar.

In July 2006, Herbert W. Armstrong College president Stephen Flurry contacted Dr. Mazar. Though many years had passed since she had worked with Mr. Armstrong, her childhood memories flooded back. “Without the support of Mr. Armstrong and the Ambassadors, the Temple Mount excavations would have never become, as it did, the most important and largest excavations in Israel at that time,” she recalled.

When Mr. Flurry said that Herbert W. Armstrong College (AC) was eager to provide support to her excavations, Dr. Mazar pounced on the offer. Within months, AC students were living in Jerusalem, and working daily on Dr. Mazar’s City of David projects.

Since the fall of 2006, Herbert W. Armstrong College has participated in several key phases of Dr. Mazar’s excavations in Jerusalem, and has contributed to a string of remarkable discoveries.

Dr. Eilat Mazar holds a light at the end of an ancient tunnel that may have biblical significance.
Courtesy Dr. Eilat Mazar

In late 2006, AC students were present when Dr. Mazar discovered the eastern wall of David’s palace. They were on site in 2007, when continued excavations revealed that a wall previously thought to date to the Hasmonean period was in fact a segment of the wall built by Nehemiah. In 2008, AC students were digging in the City of David when Dr. Mazar discovered the Gedaliah bulla. During the same dig, the team discovered a water tunnel more than 150 feet long that might have been the conduit through which King David’s forces crawled to conquer the city. The excavation of the tunnel, Dr. Mazar said, was almost entirely an “Armstrong College enterprise.”

In late 2009 and 2010, Herbert W. Armstrong College was with Dr. Mazar again when she unearthed what is believed to be a royal complex built by King Solomon.

Today, Armstrong College and the Armstrong International Cultural Foundation continue to support Dr. Mazar’s archaeological adventures. Ongoing excavations can be followed at our website keytodavidscity.org.

Dr. Eilat Mazar

Dr. Eilat Mazar, of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has been excavating ancient Jerusalem for more than 30 years, publishing numerous books and articles on the subject. Between 1981 and 1985, she was a member of the team excavating the City of David under the late Prof. Yigal Shiloh. In 1986-1987, together with her grandfather, Prof. Benjamin Mazar, she co-directed the Ophel excavations. Since Prof. Mazar’s death in 1995, she has headed the extensive project of publishing the findings from his 1968–1978 Temple Mount excavations. Between 2005 and 2008, she headed the excavations on the summit of the City of David. Her most recent project, on-and-off from 2009–2018, has been to direct the renewed excavations at the Ophel.