Biblical Archaeology in the News

2005 and 2006 were two truly extraordinary years in Biblical archaeology! It is difficult to recall a period in recent years during which so many discoveries have been made which directly relate to the Old and New Testament narratives. Over the next few months we hope to present some of the most significant and interesting of these discoveries, together with notes indicating the relationship of the finds to the Bible’s message.

King David’s Palace Found?

Excavations in East Jerusalem by archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar during 2005 and 2006 have revealed the foundations of a very large building dated by pottery fragments to the 10th - 9th centuries BC, which corresponds to the approximate date of the reigns of David and Solomon. David and Solomon were the second and third rulers of the united kingdom of Israel and the events of their reign are described in the books of 2 Samuel, 1 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles. Dr Mazar, the granddaughter of eminent Israeli archaeologist Benjamin Mazar, believes the building might be the remains of the palace which David built for himself after capturing Jerusalem from the Jebusites (II Samuel chapter 5).

Reasoning from the brief description of David’s construction of his palace in 2 Samuel 5:9-11 and the expression used in 2 Samuel 5:17 that David “went down to the stronghold” (NIV) or citadel of Jerusalem when the Philistines came to attack him, Dr Mazar eventually received funding and approval to dig at the site outside the walls of the old city of Jerusalem where she has now found the building. Furthermore, in accordance with the statement in 2 Samuel 5:11 that the Phoenician king Hiram of Tyre supplied carpenters and stonemasons for the work on David’s palace, many of the larger stones used in the newly uncovered building are of recognisably Phoenician style. A professor of archaeology at Hebrew University described the discovery as “something of a miracle” but some historians remain uncertain as to the precise purpose and date of the building, the walls of which contain boulders that are approximately 2 metres thick and extend for a length of over 20 metres. (In an article in the Jerusalem Post in April 2007 Dr Mazar suggests that less than a quarter of the entire wall has been uncovered so far.)

Seal of Zedekiah’s Minister Discovered – First Evidence outside the Bible

It is believed that the recently uncovered building was used as place of residence by Jewish kings and nobles for many years after the time of David, probably up to the time of the destruction of the city by the Babylonians in 586 BC.

In ancient times carved seals were pressed into clay by wealthy and important people as a means of indicating ownership of wine jars and other items and many have been uncovered during archaeological excavations throughout Israel. Among the better known are the seal of “Shema the servant of Jeroboam” (one of the early kings of Israel) with its lifelike engraving of a roaring lion, and the seal of “Baruch son of Neriah the scribe” who appears to be a person named in the Bible in the book of Jeremiah (chapter 36 v 1-4).

In 2005 a clay seal belonging to another individual mentioned in Jeremiah was unearthed by Dr Mazar during work on the remains of the large building in Jerusalem. Found amongst the rubble the seal is approximately one centimetre in diameter and is inscribed in ancient Hebrew script with the name of Yehokal ben Shlamyahu ben Shavi, or “Jehucal son of Shelamiah”, a Jewish noble who according to Jeremiah 37 v 3 was sent by king Zedekiah to Jeremiah with a message asking the prophet to “pray to the Lord for us” at a time when Jerusalem was being attacked by the Babylonians led by Nebuchadnezzar.

After hearing Jeremiah’s message from God that “Whoever stays in this city [Jerusalem] will die…but whoever goes over to the Babylonians will live” Jehucal was one of four men who asked the king to put Jeremiah to death and who subsequently had him arrested and imprisoned Jeremiah 38. But Zedekiah and his nobles were captured by Nebuchadnezzar when he overran the city. All the nobles were killed (presumably including Jehucal) and Zedekiah was blinded and taken to Babylon in shackles (Jeremiah 39, 2 Kings 25 v 7), in fulfilment of Jeremiah’s prophecy to the king (Jeremiah 38 v 17-18).

Jehuca Bulla

Seal of Jehucal son of Shelamiah

(photo coutesy of the Shalem Centre)

The Significance of these Discoveries for Us

Whether or not the structure unearthed by Dr Mazar and her team is actually the palace built by king David this discovery appears to refute the claims of a few historians that Israel at the time of David and Solomon was no more than a loosely organised group of poorly skilled tribespeople. We can be confident that the Bible contains an accurate record of the history of the Jewish nation, as evidenced by the discovery of the seal of Jehucal, despite the current efforts of some Muslim leaders to deny the Jewish people’s ancient associations with the land of Israel.

We can also be sure that the Bible presents, in the pages of the Old and New Testaments, an accurate account of God’s dealings with the Jewish people and of his message to them and to us. Consequently in contrast to king Zedekiah and his minister Jehucal we need to allow God’s message to direct our lives and let his love and grace overflow in our hearts.