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The History of the Temple Mount in 12 Objects: #2 The Early First Temple Period

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Ladies and gentlemen, step right up and meet this month’s guest – the earliest piece of weaponry ever to be recovered from the Temple Mount:

The arrowhead is made of bronze, in a flat, lanceolate shape, while the tang (the bit that gets inserted into the shaft) is slightly thicker, with a rhomboid midsection. Tip-to-tang, the arrowhead just tops 6 ½ cm and weighs about 9 grams.

This type of arrowhead is well known throughout Israel and surrounding areas, with examples discovered in Megiddo, Kadesh Barnea, and more. This type of arrow remained popular for several centuries, but Late Bronze Age archers seemed to prefer longer arrowheads, while in the Iron Age IIB, bronze arrowheads become scarce, and their tang would have a circular midsection, leaving our arrowhead nestled comfortably in the middle in the 10th century BCE.

To this date, less than a dozen such arrowheads have been discovered within 10th century BCE contexts throughout the country, but this speaks less of the arrowheads and more about the period in general. The 10th-9th centuries BCE are notoriously hard to pin down in an excavation for one simple reason – peace. As opposed to periods that ended violently, leaving behind entire destroyed and abandoned cities, the transition from the Iron Age I (the 12th-11th centuries BCE) to the Iron Age IIa (10th – 9th centuries BCE) was nonviolent – arrows went unfired, pottery went unsmashed and anything broken through normal use wasn’t left lying around on the floor in order to make the archaeologist’s job easier, but found its way to the city dump, such as the one we have discovered on the eastern slopes of the Temple Mount, which indeed contained copious amounts of pottery dating mostly to the 9th Century BCE.

But let’s leave the arrowhead for a moment and focus on the Temple Mount – what did it look like during this period?

Not much is known about the Iron Age I (12th-11th centuries BCE). The city of Jerusalem was controlled at the time by the Jebusites, a group of possibly Hittite origin, who are only known to us from the Bible. The Temple Mount itself was outside of the city proper, and was utilized for agricultural purposes, such as Araunah’s threshing floor, which we’ve previously discussed.

The Iron Age I draws to a close around 1000 BCE with the founding of the Davidic dynasty and the conquest of Jerusalem.

As opposed to the city itself, the Bible tells us that the nearby hill, which will come to be known as the Temple Mount, wasn’t conquered by force, but was purchased from Araunah, King of the Jebusites.

According to the Biblical account, King David only built an altar on said hill. It was his son, Solomon, who expanded the city to include the Temple Mount, and built upon it  a royal compound, with numerous buildings listed by the Bible (1 Kings 9):  the Temple itself (The House of God), the House of the King, the House of the Forest of Lebanon, the House of Pharaoh’s daughter, the Great Courtyard, and the Other Courtyard. The text also mentions several halls (Hall of the Throne, Hall of Pillars, etc.), but it is unclear whether these are separate buildings, or rooms within the buildings previously mentioned.

The entire complex stood atop the Temple Mount, renovated from time to time, until the destruction in 586 BCE.

The issue of the historical accuracy of the Bible has been the subject of much heated scholarly debate over the last few decades; some simply accept the Biblical description as historical fact, others dismiss out of hand the idea of gleaning any historical data from the Scriptures. The vast majority of academic scholars are situated somewhere between these extremes, and carefully try to tease out historical meaning from the text.

The description of the building of the Temple Mount complex given in 1 Kings includes many dry, technical details: building materials, measurements, adornments, etc. The buildings’ layout and techniques fit nicely with what we know of buildings of the period from the Ancient Near East, leading credence to the notion that the Biblical author based himself on authentic documents from the Temple archives.

Towards the end of the 10th century BCE the Temple Mount saw a decline in opulence. The Bible tells us that King Shishak of Egypt marched upon Jerusalem, and King Rehoboam placated him by delivering the treasures of the Temple and royal palace. Back in Egypt, Pharaoh Shoshenq I recorded a military campaign (ca. 920 BCE) on the walls of the Temple of Amun in Karnak, Egypt. There, the capitulating city of Jerusalem is not mentioned among the list of conquered towns, but despite the discrepancy, this is still considered the first Biblical event to be recorded by external contemporary sources.

Until recently, the only source of information regarding the Temple Mount in this period was the Biblical text itself. The lack of archaeological data allowed for the profusion of different theories, which remain untestable.

The Temple Mount Sifting Project has uncovered several artifacts that help paint an archaeological picture of the Temple Mount in the early days of the Kingdom of Israel. We have discovered a fair amount of pottery datable to this period, mainly hand-burnished bowls and cooking pots. Comparison of the amount of pottery sherds leaves no room for doubt – this is indeed the period that saw the beginning of intense human activity atop the Temple Mount.

A few other artifacts provide us with glimpses into the types of activity that said inhabitants might have been engaged in. The arrowhead with which we opened might have belonged to one of the Temple or palace guards. Administrative activities carried out within the royal compound might be reflected by a rare cone-shaped stone seal depicting a pair of animals (read more here) and a bronze weight carrying an early Hebrew inscription, purportedly discovered on the Temple Mount a century ago, while various finds from the garbage pit on the Temple Mount’s eastern slope and from the Ophel excavations all add up to paint a colorful picture of the diverse human activity taking place atop the Mount at this time.

Until such a time that a proper archaeological excavation will take place at the Temple Mount, we won’t know if there are any structural remains from the Iron Age IIA. However, in the eastern wall of the Temple Mount complex, there are some parts that clearly predate Herod, and have been suggested to date to the First Temple Period by some scholars. Given that – they may very well date to the Early First Temple Period.

Apart from the Temple itself, this period saw the Temple Mount as home for the kingdom’s governmental center that, at least in term of acreage, dwarfed the Temple and is likely the source of most of our recovered artifacts. However, irrespective of its size, the Temple was a source of inspiration to all activity conducted in nearby public buildings and governmental institutions. The Bible ascribes to the Temple a central part in the people’s religious and national life. Tithes and offerings were brought to the Temple, and there the people gathered three times a year and directed their prayers towards from afar. Such a place would have cast a light on any cultural, economic, administrative and judicial act carried out nation-wide. Any conflict would have been resolved therein, and from hence the Torah would be dispersed among the Nation of Israel and the world.

Did this utopian vision actually take place at any point during the First Temple Period? Does archaeology have anything to add to this question? Stay tuned for the next blog post in the series, as we move on to the Late First Temple Period!

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

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