Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
Photo courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority
For the first time in modern history, an archaeological dig revealing the work of the Bible’s King Solomon has been opened to the public.
“Beginning today, visitors will actually be able to walk through First Temple remains, touch the stones, enjoy and study about yet another period of the archeology of the city of Jerusalem,” said Jacob Fisch, executive director of the Friends of the Israel Antiquities Authority, about the new Ophel City Walls Site in the Walls Around Jerusalem National Park.
The highlight of the excavations is the complete exposure of a gate house characteristic of the First Temple period and believed by the excavator, Dr. Eilat Mazar of Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, to be the “Water Gate” mentioned in the Bible in Nehemiah 3:25-26: “Pedaiah son of Parosh and the temple servants living on the hill of Ophel made repairs up to a point opposite the Water Gate toward the east and the projecting tower.”
Over 3,000 years ago, archaeological evidence suggests, stone masons commissioned by King Solomon built walls to protect the city of Jerusalem. At the new park, visitors will actually be able to touch those walls.
“The reality was that a very highly skilled fortification and sophisticated fortification was built by King Solomon,” said Mazar at a ceremony opening the site to the public. “We are really lucky to reveal this fortification, and this is only part of it. It’s very impressive. And you saw these walls, huge stone walls and it continues.”
“When it becomes tangible, it becomes easier to believe in their ways what’s written in the Bible,” Mazar explained. “But at the same time, they have no idea that lots of it really can be seen and can be touched and we find lots of stuff that really go directly into the biblical sources.”
The Ophel City Wall site – a complex of buildings uncovered along the route of the fortifications from the First Temple period (tenth-sixth centuries B.C.) – was inaugurated earlier this week.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, attended the inauguration and pronounced that every effort would be made to “expose every piece of Jewish history.”
“It shows that the Bible is real,” Barkat continued. “It shows that 2,000 and 3,000 years ago, Jerusalem was the center of the world. And we love to share that with the world.”
In 2010, Mazar completed exposing the Ophel fortification complex, and conservation work by the Israel Antiquities Authrority Conservation Department began immediately afterward to make the site accessible to the public.
Architecture exposed at the site includes the building thought to be the Water Gate’s gate house, a pair of rooms believed to be from the Second Temple period (first century B.C.) a section of a tower and the city wall itself and a number of mikvaot – ritual baths where pilgrims to the Temple would have purified themselves before entering.
In addition, a royal complex was unearthed, where excavators found dozens of large clay pots of various sizes.
Avi Mashiah, a conservation expert with the Antiquities Authority who oversaw the conservation efforts at the site, added that some of the pots and stones were still blackened from the fires set in the destruction of the First Temple by King Nebuchadnezzar over 2,500 years ago.
The Ophel City Walls Site actually predates Jerusalem’s Western Wall, or Wailing Wall – a remnant of the Second Temple, built by Herod the Great – by roughly 1,000 years.
Mazar’s earlier find
WND reported that in 2008 Mazar and a team of archaeologists unearthed what’s believed to be the royal seal of an Old Testament prince who is said to have tossed the prophet Jeremiah down a well.
Royal seal bears name of Gedaliah, a prince to Judah’s King Zedekiah, mentioned in the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah. (courtesy Dr. Eilat Mazar)
The stamped engraving, known as a “bulla,” was discovered about 600 feet south of the Temple Mount in clay, astonishingly well-preserved, bearing the name of Gedaliah, the son of Pashur.
“How absolutely fantastic and special this find is can only be realized when you hold in your hand this magnificent one-centimeter piece of clay and know that it survived 2,600 years in the debris of the destruction, and came to us complete and in perfect condition,” Mazar said.
Gedaliah is mentioned by name in Jeremiah 38:1 as he served Judah’s King Zedekiah in the final days before Jerusalem was conquered by Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.
The prophet’s writings tell of the actions that Gedaliah and his fellow princes took against him:
“Then took they Jeremiah, and cast him into the dungeon of Malchiah the son of Hammelech, 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.” (Jeremiah 38:6)
The letters on the seal are in ancient Hebrew, and Mazar told WND the relic was recovered through a wet-sifting process. She says the method was learned after the “illegal excavations” by the Waqf, the Islamic custodians of the Temple Mount, who have been dumping debris in huge mounds.
“The wet sifting that we did for the destruction debris from our excavations indeed allowed us to uncover hundreds of different kinds of small finds such as tiny fish bones, Phoenician glass beads, Hebrew, Babylonian and Egyptian bullae and seals, pits and seeds, hematite and limestone weights, arrowheads, figurines, jewelry and more,” she said.
She added, “It is not very often that such a discovery happens to archaeologists in which real figures of the past shake off the dust of history and so vividly revive the stories of the Bible.”