The world of archeology is rocked by evidence of King David’s palace unearthed in Jerusalem.
You might think that’s a silly question, but in the world of academia, revisionist history and even biblical archaeology, scholars have cast the shadow of doubt over Judaism’s intrinsic connection to Jerusalem. The Moslem Waqf, the religious authority that administers the Temple Mount — the site of Judaism’s First and Second Temples — has been claiming for years that there was never a temple there. But the idea that Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and Jerusalem its holy capital has been under attack from far more reputable sources in recent decades as well.
For a growing number of academics and intellectuals, King David and his united kingdom of Judah and Israel, which has served for 3,000 years as an integral symbol of the Jewish nation, is simply a piece of fiction. The biblical account of history has been dismissed as unreliable by a cadre of scholars, some of whom have an overtly political agenda, arguing that the traditional account was resurrected by the Zionists to justify dispossessing Palestinian Arabs. The most outspoken of these is Keith Whitelam of the Copenhagen School which promotes an agenda of “biblical minimalism,” whose best-known work is The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palestinian History.
Even in Israel, this new school has found its voice. Israel Finkelstein, chairman of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archaeology, began championing a theory several years ago that the biblical accounts of Jerusalem as the seat of a powerful, unified monarchy under the rule of David and Solomon are essentially false. The scientific methods for his assumptions, called a “lower dating” which essentially pushes archaeological evidence into a later century and thus erases all evidence of a Davidic monarchy, were laughed off by traditional archaeologists. But his book, The Bible Unearthed, wound up on the New York Times’ best-seller list and he became the darling of a sympathetic media. He concluded that David and Solomon, if they existed at all, were merely “hill-country chieftains” and Jerusalem a poor, small tribal village. He claims that the myth of King David was the creation of a cult of priests trying to create for themselves a glorious history.
For Mazar, 48, one of the world’s leading authorities on the archaeology of ancient Jerusalem and head archaeologist of the Shalem Center Institute of Archaeology, the discovery was the culmination of years of effort and solid speculation. From the time she was a teenager, she had her nose in archaeology literature, and worked closely with her grandfather, renowned archaeologist Benjamin Mazar, who conducted the southern wall excavations next to the Western Wall. She holds a doctorate in archaeology from Hebrew University, is author of The Complete Guide to the Temple Mount Excavations, and in the 1970s and ’80s worked on the digs supervised by Yigal Shilo in the City of David. The significant discoveries made then, including a huge wall called the “stepped-stone structure” — which Shilo believed was a retaining wall for David’s royal palace or part of the Jebusite fortress he conquered — ignited Mazar to continue to look for the prize: David’s palace itself.
Some biblical scholars gave up looking for the palace because, according to Mazar, they were looking in the wrong place. Scholars searched for remains of the palace within the walls of the ancient Jebusite city that David conquered and called Ir David (City of David). This city, while heavily fortified with both natural and man-made boundaries, was also very small, just nine acres in size. When no evidence of such a majestic palace as the Bible describes was found there, the next step was to claim that David’s monarchy never really existed.
But Mazar always suspected that the palace was outside the original city, and cites the Bible to prove it. When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed, they went on the attack to apprehend him. This occurred after he conquered the Fortress of Zion, which was the actual nucleus of the city, and built his palace. The Bible says that David heard about it and “descended to the fortress,” (2-Samuel 5:17), implying that he went down from his palace, which was higher up on the mountain than the citadel/city.
Mazar told Aish.com: “I always asked myself: Down from where? It must have been from his palace on top of the hill, outside the original Jebusite city.”
Mazar says she was confident in her assessment of where the palace would be. What she discovered was a section of massive wall running about 100 feet from west to east along the length of the excavation (underneath what until this summer was the Ir David Visitors Center), and ending with a right-angle corner that turns south and implies a very large building.
What most amazed Mazar was how close the building is to the surface — just one to two meters underground. “The cynics kept saying, ‘there will be so many layers, so many remnants of other cultures, it’s not worth digging, it’s too far down.’ I was shocked at how easy it was to uncover it, and how well-preserved it was, as if it were just waiting 3,000 years for us to find it,” Mazar said
Mazar snickers at the idea that she is some sort of divine emissary revealing the eternity of David’s kingdom. “I am a scientist, not a philosopher. My focus is on how magnificent and enduring these complex structures are, that they were preserved and protected for so many generations. In truth, when I began to excavate, I had to be prepared for any result. I even had to be prepared to accept Finkelstein’s hypothesis if that’s what the facts indicated. Still, I am a Jew and an Israeli, and I feel great joy when the details on the ground match the descriptions in the Bible. Today it’s become fashionable to say there was no David, no Solomon, no Temple, no prophets. But suddenly the facts on the ground are speaking, and those outspoken voices are stammering.”
The Bible says that King David brought God’s Tabernacle to its final home in this original Jerusalem, expanded the city, and made it the spiritual and economic capital of the world at that time. According to Jewish tradition, he fulfilled God’s master plan for a spiritual monarchy that would endure until the final Redemption.
“The construction that we found was a complicated and intricate engineering operation that must have required immense resources, and the dating matches,” says Mazar. “This is the kind of step one would expect of a new ruler who wants to turn the city he conquered into his permanent residence, and who has an exceptional vision of the future development of the city.”
According to the Bible, David’s palace was constructed by Hiram, King of Tyre, the contemporary Phoenician ruler and his ally against the Philistines. Mazar, an expert in Phoenician construction from her excavations at Achziv on Israel’s northern coast, attests that this building bears the mark of Phoenician construction, not likely to be found otherwise in the Judean hills.
In fact, quite a bit about David’s palace is known from the Bible itself. It was a “house of cedars” built by Phoenician builders (2-Samuel 5:11 and 1-Chronicles 14:1) who used the cedars of Lebanon and developed a distinct style of stone masonry. Remains of pillars and decorative stone capitals in this particular style were discovered at the site years before, which was one clue Mazar used to look for the palace.
The bulla found on the site of the palace indicates that the building was used by the king, or at least by his ministers, until the destruction of Jerusalem soon afterwards. (In fact, a nearby cistern uncovered in what might have been a king’s courtyard is speculated to perhaps be the pit Jeremiah was lowered into, as recorded in Jeremiah 38:6). “For me, finding the bulla was tremendous,” says Mazar. “Yehuchal was no longer just some name in a biblical account that I might not even have been sure was true. He was a real person. We now have his business card. The account is a real account. It is very rare to find such precise evidence for a narrative in the Bible.”
Mazar took the bulla home to examine and decipher. With the help of a needle and magnifying glass, she cleaned off the grains of dust until the ancient inscription was revealed. Together with her boys, aged 14, 13, and 11, they managed to decipher the ancient Hebrew script. Mazar’s late husband, also an archaeologist, had published material on bullas, and the boys made use of their father’s articles which explained how to properly examine and decipher the clay.
Mazar is heady, not with personal glory or the fame that has followed her since the discovery, but with what she considers validation of the Bible she so loves and respects. “Today the scholarly approach to Tanach [the Bible] is that it’s not true unless you can prove it true. Maybe we should do a little reverse. Why don’t we say it’s true unless we can prove otherwise?”
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