Politics Get Mixed Up With Archaeology in Dispute Over Solomon's Silwan Wall

The excavations near the Temple Mount's eastern wall in an area known as the Ophel continued on and off for decades.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

An archaeological site dedicated in Jerusalem this week consists of a section of an ancient wall built by King Solomon in the 10th century B.C.E., says the archaeologist who dug up the wall. Other archaeologists, however, disagree with the date and implications and object to what they call the political use of archaeology.

Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who dug up the site, hopes opening it to the public will be a turning point in the debate about whether David and Solomon's Kingdom of Israel existed or not.

The excavations near the Temple Mount's eastern wall in an area known as the Ophel continued on and off for decades. Mazar's grandfather, Prof. Benjamin Mazar, began the dig. Work on the site was completed with the addition of passages and handrails to give visitors access to the findings.

The wall consists of 70 meters of fortifications, a tower and gatehouse similar to structures from that period found in Meggido, Be'er Sheva and Ashdod.

Mazar dates the findings on the basis of shards found in the digs going back to the 10th century B.C.E. - the Kingdom of Israel under David and Solomon. Near the gate Mazar found a large structure that had been ravaged by fire. She suggests it was destroyed by the Babylonians during the destruction of the First Temple.

A number of shards are inscribed with words and parts of words. A small clay slate inscribed in Akkadian cuneiform is believed to be part of a letter from the king of Jerusalem to the ruler of Egypt, and was kept in an archive. The slate, bearing the most ancient writing ever found in Jerusalem, will be exhibited in the Davidson Archaeological Center near the Western Wall plaza.

However, dating the findings to the 10th century B.C.E. and the assumption that they come from a great, powerful kingdom, have raised a raging controversy.

Many archaeologists object to Mazar's conclusion that Jerusalem was a grand capital in the 10th century B.C.E. and say this is an invention of biblical scribes hundreds of years later.

"It was very easy to ignore the findings because the area was covered, and they could not be seen," says Mazar. "When we have a ceramic finding dating back to the 10th or 9th century - it doesn't fit the theories of those claiming all of Jerusalem's glory and grandeur were a seventh century invention," she says.

Mazar cites Kings 1, chapter 9 to show that the Ophel fortifications are mentioned in the Bible: "...to build the house of the Lord, and his own house, and Millo, and the wall of Jerusalem." (verse 15 )

But a large number of Israeli archaeologists say the link between the biblical text and political conclusions is forced. The main debate is on the dating of the findings.

Professor Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University, one of the leading archaeologists who downplay the Bible's importance in understanding archaeology, says Mazar erred in dating the findings.

"As far as I understand, if indeed this is a fortification, the findings indicate it was built in a later stage of the kingdom - after Solomon's era," says Finkelstein.

Others doubt the structures' classification as royal.

Archaeologist Yoni Mizrachi of Emek Shaveh (Common Ground ) - a nonprofit opposing the political use of archaeology - blasts the project.

"The Ophel excavations revealed a site whose many layers represent almost every period. Regrettably, again the emphasis is placed on a certain period of biblical Jerusalem. It's a pity that instead of exhibiting a multilayered site that tells the story of the various cultures comprising the city's past and present, they are once again focusing on the Israeli angle," says Mizrachi.

Mazar says her discovery establishes that Jews possessed the city in the 10th century B.C.E., as described in the Bible.

However, other experts maintain that biblical references regarding the existence of an Israelite monarchy in Jerusalem in that period is largely romantic imagining.

Visitors attending the opening of the Ophel dig outside Jerusalem’s Old City yesterday.Credit: Emil Salman



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