Jeremiah / Jerusalem

Another Day, Another Character from Jeremiah Comes to Life!

We continue this month with our series on archaeological discoveries which have been made during the last five or so years and which contribute significantly to our understanding of  Biblical characters and places.

First of all there was some more extraordinary news from Israel early this month with the announcement by Dr. Eilat Mazar that a bulla or clay impression of a seal bearing the name of another person mentioned in the book of Jeremiah has been uncovered during her excavations in Jerusalem![1]. This particular bulla, which is reported to be in excellent condition, includes the name “Gedalayahu ben Pashur” or Gedaliah son of Pashur. It is thought that the seal might have belonged to the Jewish man of the same name who appears in Jeremiah chapter 38 as one of the advisors to king Zedekiah of Judah. This Gedaliah, along with several other Jewish nobles, accused Jeremiah of betraying the nation after the prophet warned the inhabitants of Jerusalem to flee from the city before its imminent destruction by the Babylonians. The group imprisoned Jeremiah in a filthy, mud-filled cistern, where he almost starved to death before he was eventually rescued by a more sympathetic royal official.

This most recent discovery adds significantly to the list of archaeological artefacts that appear to be related to particular individuals who are named in the later chapters of the prophecy of Jeremiah, which is an amazing situation given that the events recorded in Jeremiah took place around 2,400 years ago (Jeremiah is thought to have prophesied from approximately 626 to 586 BCE). The list includes:

o       A bulla from the seal of Gemariah son of Shaphan which was discovered in Jerusalem in 1982. (Gemariah is a royal official mentioned in Jeremiah 36 v 10-12 and 25 and his father Shaphan, a royal scribe, is mentioned several times in 2 Kings 22.)[2]

o       A bulla which names Zedekiah the son of Hanani (possibly the same royal official named in Jeremiah 36 v 12) [3]

o       A bulla of Jehucal son of Shelemiah which was discovered by Dr Mazar’s team in 2005 in Jerusalem, very close to the spot where the Gedaliah bulla was found. (Jehucal was another adversary of Jeremiah and is mentioned in Jer. 37 v 38; 38 v 1)

o       A small clay tablet which records a temple offering by Nebo-Sarsekim, the “chief officer” of the great king Nebuchadnezzar who conquered the kingdom of Judah and deported its population to Babylon. (Jeremiah 39 v 2. The tablet was described in the July 2008 article on this website – see Archive)

o       Over 500 tablets and inscriptions such as the one below detailing the events of Nebuchadnezzar’s forty-three year reign, plus thousands of clay bricks stamped with his name and used in his multitude of building projects in Babylon and elsewhere.

Cylindrical Inscription of Nebuchadnezzar

 

Cylindrical inscription of Nebuchadnezzar, describing his palaces.

© Trustees of the British Museum

o       A stamp seal of “Gedalyahu, the one over the house”, discovered in Lachish in 1935, possibly the same Gedaliah son of Ahikam and grandson of Shaphan who was appointed by Nebuchadnezzar as governor over the people remaining in Judah following  Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Jerusalem and subsequent return to Babylon. (Jeremiah 39, 40-41; 2 Kings 25 v 22-25)[4]

o       A bulla discovered during excavations in an Ammonite city in 1884 and reading “Belonging to Milkomur servant of Baalis”. (Baalis was an Ammonite king who is mentioned in Jeremiah 40 v 13-14.)[5]

o       Babylonian records which list the daily food ration allocated to king Jehoiachin of Judah. (Jehoiachin was captured by Nebuchadnezzar and exiled to Babylon where he remained for at least thirty-seven years. Jeremiah 52 v 31; 2 Chronicles 36 v 9-10)[6]

Amazing as these discoveries are however, we need to ask ourselves what  their real value is for those of us who believe in the Bible as the “God-breathed” word of life? Are we dependent on such finds for confidence in the accuracy of the Old Testament record? Do our love of God and our faith in Jesus require a  constant stream of Biblical era artefacts? Surely not; as Jesus himself said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 21 v 29). However as a well-known Jewish archaeologist observed, the bullae and inscriptions in our list are able to provide us with something special, a “feeling of personal contact with persons who figure prominently in the dramatic events in which the giant figure of Jeremiah” was involved, “at a most critical time” in the history of the Jewish people.[7] In addition they are able to increase our knowledge of the cultural, political and social context in which these people lived and moved.

Surely then discoveries like these, which bring us closer to the cast of characters who are depicted in the narrative of the Bible, might also bring us a little closer to God himself and provide us with a deeper understanding of His work of salvation. And they might also encourage us to take a closer look at the spiritual lessons contained in Jeremiah’s prophecies. What do you think?

(Any comments on this subject via Contact Us would be appreciated. Andrew)

 

Jerusalem – Fascinating Past, Brilliant Future

Jerusalem seems to be in the archaeological news pretty regularly these days,  partly as a result of the extensive excavation work which is taking place in several parts of the city. Among the more interesting projects being carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority and other organisations are the excavation of remains of buildings from the late First Temple period (8th to 6th centuries BCE) near the Western Wall plaza, uncovering of the main road which ran from the City of David to the Temple Mount in early New Testament times, the exploration of sewerage drains and Western Wall tunnels in which Jewish men, women and children sheltered in terror during the Roman assault on the city in 70 CE and exposing a large building opposite the Temple Mount which is thought to be the remains of a palace built by Queen Helena, a wealthy Babylonian aristocrat who converted to Judaism in approximately 30 CE and eventually moved to Jerusalem where she purchased and distributed food for many Jews who were suffering from a severe famine at the time. There is also the progressive exposure of the Pool of Siloam (the intended subject of a future article) and continuing excavations in the area of the city of David, including the identification of what might be part of the defensive wall that was rebuilt under the direction of Nehemiah.[8]

A quarry from which the stones used for Herod the Great’s extensive reconstruction of the Temple were taken has also recently been identified. The largest of the massive stones in the the Temple wall has been estimated to weigh approximately 570 tons!! That’s  around 100 tons heavier than the largest stone in the Egyptian pyramids and is one of the largest stones ever used in a building anywhere in the world. No wonder the residents and rulers of Jerusalem were shocked when Jesus predicted a time of destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple when not one of these enormous stones would be left on another; when “every one will be thrown down” (Matthew 24 v 2). In 70 CE this prophecy was fulfilled.

Huge stone in the Western Wall

Huge stone in the Western Wall of the Jerusalem Temple

Source: Wikipedia. Photographer: David Shankbone.

The political nature of much of the archaeological work in Jerusalem also ensures its newsworthiness, with charges that findings from the periods of Moslem domination of the city are frequently being ignored or surrepticiously removed by the Jewish authorities, and claims that Palestinian families are being forced from their homes in order to facilitate expansion of several of the areas being excavated. And of course there’s the ongoing problem of the destruction of archaeological remains on the Temple Mount by the Moslem authority responsible for the Dome of the Rock and associated shrines on the Mount.

All of these activities, along with political events in Israel and neighbouring countries, are helping to keep Jerusalem in the international public eye. And that’s just the way that God intended because he has big plans for this city, as we read in Isaiah chapter 2 v 1- 4 (NIV):

“Concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.’

The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”

This ancient city, which has experienced tremendous turmoil and in which so much of its fascinating past is being revealed by the archaeologist’s spade, has a brilliant future awaiting it. As the future capital of the worldwide Kingdom of God, Jerusalem is to be reconstructed in order to reveal a divinely inspired beauty and glory such as it has never known before. And God invites each of us to share the experience with Him!

(See also Zechariah 14 v 8 – 11 and Revelation 21 & 22).

***************************

[1]Lefkovits, Etgar.  “Seal of King Zedekiah’s minister found in J’lem dig” in The Jerusalem Post, Online Edition. 31 July 2008. http://www.jpost.com

[2] Sapir, Yitzhak.  “Jerusalem Conference and Temple Mount Immer Bulla” in Hebrew Bible and ANE History Lists Commentary. 05 April  2006 blog (update).

http://toldot.blogspot.com/2006/04/jerusalem-conference-and-temple-mount.html

 

[3] King, Philip J.  Jeremiah. An Archaeological Companion. 1993. Westminster/John Knox. Louisville,

                                Kentucky.

[4] King, Philip J.  Op cit.

[5] King, Philip J.  Op cit.

[6] Mykytiuk, Lawrence J.  “A Royal Dignitary – Or a “Royal” Disappointment? Who’s Who in Biblical Texts and Ancient Inscriptions” in Society of Biblical Literature Forum.

 http://www.sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleId=292 Retrieved on 03/09/2007.

[7] King, Philip J.  Op cit.

[8] Brief information regarding some of this work can be found at the IAA website: http://www.antiquities.org.il/Active_Digs_eng.asp .