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The History of the Temple Mount in 12 Objects: #1 The Late Bronze Age

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Hello everyone!

As those of you who follow our newsletter know, the blog is about to embark on an exciting new journey: Inspired by the British Museum’s A History of the World in 100 Objects, we will, over the course of the coming year, showcase objects of different periods in the Temple Mount’s history, telling you about them and about the periods they represent.

So without further ado – here’s the first post, of the Temple Mount back before there was a temple:

Back in 2011, a nice Israeli family joined us in the sifting facility for a rummage through the debris of the Temple Mount. They were expecting some of what we’ve come to think of as run-of-the-mill finds: some pottery sherds, a few mosaic tesserae, bits of glass and stone, and maybe a coin – if they got lucky. But they got more than they bargained for when they spotted a broken faience (a soft glass-like material) amulet which clearly showed some hieroglyphs. So we immediately knew it was ancient, and connected to Egypt, but the deciphering took a while longer, and it was only a few years later that news sites around the world carried the title Girl, 12, finds ancient Egyptian amulet at Jerusalem dig.

The Amulet was examined by our staff and by Baruch Brandl, leading Israeli expert in Egyptian glyptic items, who noted the different elements visible in the amulet:

Amulet of Thutmose III found in the Temple Mount soil by the Sifting Project (click to enlarge)

Above: The eye within the sun.

Below, to the right: The broken top half of the looping tail of the Uraeus (Egyptian Cobra).

Below, to the left: An oval cartouche containing hieroglyphs – on the top is visible a circle representing the sun-disc; below it, looking like an upside-down comb – a board with game pieces on it – the famous Egyptian game of senet; below the senet board, just barely visible above the break – you can spot the forelegs of the scarab beetle.

Put together, the hieroglyphs in the cartouche spell the word “Men-kheper-Ra”. Literally – Lasting is the Manifestation of Ra (check out other variants in this nifty little site), the throne name of the pharaoh better known as Thutmose III, who ruled Egypt in the 15th Century BCE.

But what’s an Egyptian amulet doing way out here, 420km away from Thebes?

To understand that, let’s take a quick dip into ancient Egyptian\Israeli history:

Pharaoh Thutmose III reigned in Egypt from 1479 – 1425 BCE. He was part of the 18th dynasty, which ruled in the beginning of the Egyptian Era known as the New Kingdom, and he did a bunch of interesting things down there, which aren’t the topic of this post. 😉 Meanwhile, in the land the Egyptians knew as Retjenu, and which the bible calls “Canaan”  – the Late Bronze Age was in full swing, and the country was divided among local “kings” – rulers of city states.

Thutmose III helped turn Egypt into a superpower by stretching his empire from Southern Syria through to Canaan and Nubia. We know a lot about his military campaigns because records of his campaigns are inscribed on the wall of the temple of Amun in Karnak. The first, and probably largest of Thutmose III’s 17 military campaigns took place in Canaan. The Canaanite city-states revolted against Pharaonic attempts at hegemony but were soundly trounced by Thutmose’s superior forces and tactics at the Battle of Megiddo in 1457 BCE.

And so, the Egyptians ruled the land until the mid-12th Century BCE, leaving their mark on archaeological sites throughout the country – Jaffa, Megiddo, Bet She’an, and Ashkelon, to name a few.

Within the Late Bronze Period, the part we know the most about in terms of Israel\Egypt relationship is the Late Bronze period II – corresponding in time to the Egyptian Amarna Period, so called because, luckily for us, in 1336 BCE Pharaoh Akhenaten moved the capital to the site of Amarna. Why lucky, you ask? Because this move, among with other reforms enacted by the Pharaoh were reviled by Egyptians of following generations, and after the death of his son (the famous Tutankhamun), his new capitol was abandoned – leaving behind its rich archives to be discovered some three millennia later.

These archives relate a rich correspondence between the Pharaoh and the rulers of the city-states of Canaan, including the King of Jerusalem, Abdi-Heba. In his 6 letters, Abdi‑Heba beseeches the Pharaoh for his help against the Habiru people, and the rulers of cities such as Shechem, Gezer, and Lachish who, unlike himself, show no loyalty to the Pharaoh.

Strangely enough, when reading each of the other rulers’ letters, it would seem that they are the only ones truly loyal to the Pharaoh. Go figure, huh?

The archive contains only letters sent to the Pharaoh, and we don’t know what answer Abdi-Heba received from the Pharaoh’s scribe. However, several years ago, while Dr. Eilat Mazar was excavating in the Ophel (south of the Temple Mount) and outsourced her sifting needs to us, we managed to find a tiny piece of a clay tablet of the same type as the Amarna archive. So even though the fragment was too small to decipher a meaningful message – at least we know that Abid-Hepa’s correspondence wasn’t one-sided.

But even though we learn from the archives that ancient Jerusalem, while not exactly a super-power, was definitely a city to be reckoned with, its remains remain a bit elusive.

A scant amount of pottery dated to this age was found in excavations in the City of David and the Ophel, including some imported material from Cypress and the Agean world, to which we can add our pottery (which we’ve already discussed in a previous blog post) and a few other finds such as two scarabs, three fragments of stone vessels and a finger from a possible Egyptian Late Bronze statue.

These artifacts can be added to other finds dated to the Late Bronze Age discovered in past years in the City of David as well as artifacts hinting to the possible existence of an Egyptian temple in the premises of the Dominican monastery of St. Étienne north of the Damascus Gate.

Several tombs were discovered in the city’s environs – on the Mount of Olives, Armon Hanatziv, and as far away as the modern neighborhood of Nachla’ot – and yet, the buildings associated with such a bustling city have not been discovered – an occupational hazard inherent to excavating a city continually inhabited and rebuilt for over 3 millennia…

All in all, even though the archaeological remains from this era in Jerusalem as a whole are somewhat meager, in the Temple Mount their amount is even smaller. This fits well with the well-established notion that the Temple Mount was uninhabited and not included within the city proper, but was rather used for agricultural purposes, such as the biblical Araunah’s threshing floor.

Winnowing in a Threshing floor at the village of Majdal Shams (taken in 1967 by Sari Sapir ). Was this the main activity that took place at the Temple Mount during the Late Bronze and Iron Age I periods?

Join us in our next post, as we continue into the Iron Age I and beginning of the First Temple Period!

Thank You!

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We did it! Thanks to our three benefactors donors who setup the matching fund, and to all our supporters through our crowdfunding website, we’ve managed to secure our budget for the rest of 2018 and the beginning of 2019. This will allow us to continue the research, complete several research topics and send more articles for publication.

We are thrilled by the support we received from many return donors. This continual support really means a lot and encourages us to keep on going.

We currently employ 12 lab personnel (four of them for full time) and in order to complete the research and publication of all of our categories of finds we will need to hire 30 more researchers for a research project that will extend five years. The end result will be a six thick volumes final report that will include full documentation, analysis, discussion and summaries of the entire corpus of finds with conclusions of the significance of the new archaeological data from the Temple Mount.

The total projected cost of such a research project is about 9M Shekels. The research program and budget was reviewed and approved by a special committee of senior archaeologists appointed by the Israel Antiquities Authority. A letter from the Israel Antiquities director with a recommendation to fund this program was sent to the Prime Minister office about five months ago, but we haven’t received any formal announcement or response from the Prime Minister’s office or other government offices.

We have no certainty that the promise made a year and a half ago by the Prime Minister or the promises made by other Ministers (the Minister of Culture and Sports, and the Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage) of supporting the project, will be fulfilled. As time passes the likelihood of this happening decreases, and for this reason we still continue fundraising for the full publication project and resumption of the sifting.

Our next goal is funding the publication of the first three volumes (about $400K). This is a long-term goal that will be raised from private philanthropists, foundations grants, and through our crowdfunding website. Although the main funding comes from the first, we deeply believe in the value (both symbolic and economic) of public participation with the funding of the project.

Many thanks again for all those who supported us during this campaign. We deeply appreciate your partnership, and your involvement in following our websites, sharing our posts and videos and your concern for the project’s future.

Zachi Dvira and Dr. Gabriel Barkay

Goodbye Jenn!

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To all of our supporters and follower and lovers of archaeology,

There comes a time in every person’s career where they have to take a new opportunity even if it means leaving a place and people that they love. Unfortunately for me, that day is today and it is with deepest melancholy that I have to say farewell.

I have been blessed to have spent the last 2 ½ years with the Temple Mount Sifting Project. You may not know me, but I am the person behind most of our blog posts, newsletters, and social media, with a little grant writing, donor relations, video editing, and research added in for good measure. I also led many of the tours in English at the site in Emek Tzurim.

I cannot express in words how fantastic this project is, the importance of the research being done here, or the truly amazing people who work here. Instead, I thought I would share some of my favorite memories from the past few years as an insight into the people and the project that I love. So in no particular order:

1. Finding TWO coins on my Hebrew Birthday and Zachi telling me that he believes that coins are usually found by people who deserve it / are special in some way.

2. Driving Dr. Gaby Barkay anywhere and listening to his history lessons of Jerusalem as he points out landmarks and the sites of historical events both big and small. Dr. Barkay is a treasure and I am blessed to have worked with him.

3. Sharing the ASOR conference in 2017 in Boston with Aaron Greener and Haggai Cohen Klonymus.

4. Lab conversations between the researchers as they made discoveries. I will never forget the day that Frankie came in so excited that she had found another tile for her Second Temple period floor, or my first day when Frankie and Hillel were discussing various artifacts for about an hour while I waited for Zachi to arrive and tell me what to do.

5. Finding a tiny Roman die – one of a handful ever found by the project.

6. Giving my first lecture in the lab with a wonderful family from Australia. I love sharing the history of the Temple Mount with guests. That is one of the reasons I loved writing all of these blog posts. This history is so important, but more than that, it speaks to a different level of the soul because this is YOUR history; this is the Temple Mount.

7. Working with our two amazing interns Hannah and Renata. It was a bit surreal to be considered a professional enough to merit an intern and it was a pleasure to see them grow and fall in love with Israel.

8. Making bullot in the lab for last year’s campaign. We used our 10th century BCE seal to make seal impressions to send to the first 25 donors in the campaign. Mixing modern clay with Temple Mount soil for tempering and then making replicas that really meant something was really special. Also, shout-out to my mom for being one of the first 25 donors and getting one of the sealings. Check out the video: How to Make Bullot!

9. Writing and shooting my first movie and sitting for hours with our talented video editor to make a campaign video. Join Us!

Haggai showing artifacts on Yom Yerushalayim in the Old City

10. Getting sunburned on the 50th Yom Yerushalayim from standing in the Old City and sharing our project with the thousands of visitors. We had a display case with some of our modern artifacts from the 6 Day War as well as artifacts from the entire history of the Temple Mount.

11. Carrying a 17 kilo plaque through airport security and then driving it down to the Hamptons. The Hamptons community were so welcoming and the bakery near the synagogue has the best black and white cookies I have ever had.

12. Watching the faces of our visitors as they actually touched a piece of the floor from the Second Temple – a floor that the High Priest walked upon. Or coins, or architecture, or anything that they discovered from the Temple itself. There is nothing like the look on a child’s face when they physically touch history and you know that your message reached them. Making future archaeologists and those who will fight to protect our heritage.

13. Getting the news that we were going to do a pilot program and try to restart the sifting as a mobile project. Working with the students in Tekoa after such a long hiatus reminded me how special the Temple Mount material really is. Every bucket has amazing material from all the time periods in the history of the Temple Mount.

14. The humility, generosity, and humor of the lab staff. Staff dinners, singing together at the barbecue last year as everyone’s kids ran around, celebrating births, deaths, and weddings. I have worked in a lot of places and I am so grateful for how quickly I was included in the TMSP family. It is also really special to be working with so many female archaeologists in one place. I truly love you all.

15. My first trip to the Temple Mount was with the TMSP staff. Seeing this holy place with people who really appreciate it, and learning about everything that this site has gone through from war, to fire, to rebuilding, to being so contested and yet remaining, was a really moving experience. Every time I have gone up to the Temple Mount, with other staff, with Dr. Barkay and a group of US Congressmen, I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to visit such an amazing, holy, important place. My grandfather only ever dreamed of visiting Israel, and here I am, an Israeli citizen as of 3 years ago and standing on the Temple Mount itself. It is a feeling I hope never grows old, and is something I will take with me forevermore.

These are just a few of the memories, but I hope that you can see just a glimpse of how special the Sifting Project is. I can tell you with complete certainty that the staff really does consider all of its supporters as part of the Sifting Project family. We could not be the project we are today without you. From sifting to supporting our research, you are the foundation of this project.

Now that I am gone, there may be fewer blog posts and fewer videos or Facebook posts. This does not mean that the Sifting Project staff are being idle; it just means that there isn’t a budget to continue putting out the kind of content we have for the past few years as they are not replacing me when I leave for a new opportunity. Breakthroughs and news media will definitely be shared with you as well as the occasional amazing artifact and other news. If you haven’t yet subscribed to the quarterly newsletter, do it now! That is a great way to get updates on the project and make sure you don’t miss anything.

My email, development@tmsifting.org, will continue to be active and your emails will now be answered by our lovely and talented office manager Inbal, or by one of our directors.

With much love and gratitude, thank you for the past 2 1/2 years,

Jennifer Greene
Director of International Development and Public Relations

Wrapping Up First Temple Period Pottery

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We’re nearly there, and with just a little more of your help, we’ll be able to reach our donation drive goal. Our benefactors are waiting to QUADRUPLE your donation.


Your donation will enable us to complete research regarding pottery from the First Temple, Late Roman, Byzantine and Early Muslim periods, and coins from all periods. We will able to publish two preliminary reports and advance the research in many more areas. This may strike the non-archaeologist as dreary, but you should know that pottery analysis is the core of the archaeologists’ work, from which most meaningful insights are derived.

Early 1st Temple Period pottery sherds, dated 10th-9th Century BCE

Remember, in the archaeological world, unpublished artifacts might as well not exist at all.
We are also looking for sponsors for our community sifting program. You can sponsor a full 3-day school program for $3600 or partially subsidize a program for a school with limited resources (make sure to fill out the comments section in the donation form and let us know to where we should direct your funds).

Donate now at: half-shekel.org

Mourning and Gratitude

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The three weeks of mourning are in full swing and Tisha B’Av, the fast day dedicated to remembering the destruction of the Jewish Temples, is fast approaching. It is a time for reflection about what the Temples and the Temple Mount means to the Jewish people, but can also be a time to be grateful for what we do have today: the State of Israel, access to the Western Wall, and (limited) access to the Temple Mount. We have the freedom to be Jewish in our homeland, and we here at the Sifting Project have the blessing to every day work with artifacts from the Temple Mount. We want to take this opportunity to thank all of the people who have already given in this year’s Annual Appeal for helping us continue to do this important and meaningful work and share it with you. Click here to donate to this year’s appeal and quadruple your impact.

We also want to take this opportunity to thank a very special community. Last May, we had the pleasure of being invited to the Hampton Synagogue in West Hampton Beach, New York. This was at the height of our insecurity about the future of our project, and long-time supporter Mr. David Sterling, and Rabbi Marc Schneier of the Hampton Synagogue, made an appeal on our behalf. The congregation treated us with warmth and were so welcoming and generous, and we left the community with enough pledges to help us secure the funding we needed to complete last year’s research and the ability to focus on our goals and continue our research. This year, Dr. Barkay returned to the Hamptons and again received a warm welcome and promises of help.

We have great respect and gratitude for all of our donors, and some of you have really become like members of our TMSP family. Some of you have been with us from the beginning in 2004 and some of you are newer to our project. We are moved that our message of archaeological conservation and cultural heritage preservation affected you enough to come on board and join us in our mission.

However, never before has an entire US community of people come together to make such an impact on our project, and we want to take this moment to say thank you.

The Temple and the Hamptons

Gratitude Plaque at the Hampton Synagogue with Soil and Ashes from the Temple Mount

If you find yourself in the New York area, you should take a look at the unique plaque that we created for the Hampton Synagogue. This plaque represents our gratitude and friendship, and also includes an ewer of Temple Mount soil from our sifting. We’ve written before about the unique earth that we have been sifting through and its high content of ash, originating from the destruction of the First and Second Temples

We learn from the tenth-century Rabbi Sherira Gaon that when Israel was exiled after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE, the smiths, craftsmen, and prophets among them, were brought to the city of Nehardea in Babylonia. Jehoiakhin the king of Judah, and his entourage built there a synagogue and used for its foundation earth and stones they had brought with them from the [ruined] Temple [in Jerusalem] to fulfill the intention of Psalms 102:14. They named the synagogue Shaf ve-Yativ, meaning the Temple journeyed and settled here.

Dr. Gabriel Barkay and Rabbi Marc Schneier with the Gratitude Plaque at the Hampton Synagogue

Well the Temple has now journeyed and settled in the Hampton Synagogue, the first modern synagogue in the world to hold the ashes of the Temple itself. The plaque we created to accompany the soil explains this and reads, “This olive wood plaque is dedicated to the congregants of the Hampton Synagogue in recognition of their support for the Temple Mount Sifting Project; as people who embody Psalms 102:14 For your servants have cherished her stones, and have redeemed her dust. May the congregation find great meaning in this soil from the Temple Mount, containing ash originating in the massive conflagration that destroyed the Second Temple… Like in Babylon, may this earth serve as a reminder of our connection to Jerusalem and the Temples. May it be a symbol of the bond of friendship with the Temple Mount Sifting Project in the pursuit of the protection and preservation of Jewish heritage and Jerusalem.”

* The Temple Mount ashy soil is the property of the nation of Israel and the world. We don’t see ourselves as the owners of this earth, with its rich meaning and history. We want to share it with you, our family of supporters. Congregations interested in a similar plaque and lecture series can contact development@tmsifting.org

 

Ashes for Joy and Sorrow

Bowl of ashes used at wedding.

The destruction of the Temples is remembered by Jews in so many different ways, and at so many different occasions. Jews remember the destruction in daily prayer, grace after meals, when building a new home, and at weddings in order that we commemorate the ongoing feeling of pain over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. We have had many people, grooms and the grieving, asking us for this ash so that they can use it at weddings and funerals.

Yemenite Jewish custom is to put ash on the groom’s forehead during the marriage ceremony when this destruction is recalled and Psalm 137:5-6 is said. “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.” In recent years this custom has been adopted also by non-Yemenite Jews.

Others, like secular Israeli Yishai Rosenbaum from Oranit, believe that the juxtaposition of remembering the destruction of the Temples at happy occasions highlights our ability to bring joy out of sadness. Rather than tempering our joy with a moment of sad remembrance, it uplifts our sadness with the present joy and hope for the future.

Our director, Zachi Dvira, also used Temple Mount ash at his mother’s funeral. There is a tradition that the children place a little ash on the closed eyes of the deceased, while reciting the verses “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,” (Genesis 3:19) and “Joseph’s own hand shall close your eyes,” (Genesis 46:4).

Most recently, we sent Temple Mount soil to be sprinkled in the burial of one of our biggest supporters, and we know that it brought comfort to the grieving family to have him resting in earth from Israel and the Temples.

It is amazing how something as simple as soil or ashes can fire our imaginations or make us connect with history, our heritage, or the divine. May these three weeks of mourning be also a time of reflection, gratitude, and giving. Despite recent actions, may we never again witness destruction on the Temple Mount.

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