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Now more than ever the Temple Mount Sifting Project needs your support!

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Dear friends and supporters of the Temple Mount Sifting Project,

The project is currently undergoing significant developments that aim to advance progress on several fronts: Scientific research and publication of the finds, public awareness of the importance of the Temple Mount heritage and of scientific facts concerning its history, and resumption of the sifting on June 2nd. In order to make all this happen we need your continued support!

Unfortunately, the promise of funding by PM Netanyahu remains unfulfilled and we continue to rely on donations. In addition, our funding needs have increased due to the urgent need to resume the sifting. Approximately 30% of the soil removed from the Temple Mount has not yet been sifted. This soil is under imminent threat from erosion due to exposure to the elements, and to its mixing with other illegal refuse deposits. In addition, a large amount of excavated soil remains on the Temple Mount itself, and in the light of events during the last month of Ramadan (June 2018), we understand that this earth is also in danger and needs to be sifted, after finding a suitable controlled method for transferring it from the Mount.

The project has progressed so far thanks to wide public support, and we are asking you to continue your support until all sifting and research have been completed. Gaby always says that the project’s most important find is its people, and in truth we are only investing so much effort in trying to continue this important work for you.

We hope you will consider continuing your support to the project and help encourage others to join the Temple Mount Sifting Project mission.

Further details are available at our crowdfunding website: half-shekel.org

Two Important Announcements

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Dear friends and supporters, this time we have two important announcements for you:

First the bad news. The government’s promises of funding have not been fulfilled. In September 2016, Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly vowed to fund the project, a promise repeated when he invited us to a meeting with him in December 2016. These promises have yet to be materialized, despite that the Prime Minister subsequently tasked the Israel Antiquities Authority to assess the Sifting Project’s funding needs and research plan. Over the following year, the IAA examined our research and budget proposals and even sought the recommendation of a committee of senior archaeologists from different academic institutions. This process lasted a whole year and finally on April 2018 the IAA director sent a letter to the Prime Minister office with the recommendation to fund a five-year research plan for the publication of the Sifting Project finds summing 2.4 million dollars.

Sifting Project directors meeting with PM Netanyahu (Dec 6th 2016). From left to right: Zachi Dvira, Dr. Gabriel Barkay, Edward Baumstein (the organization’s Board Director), PM Netanyahu and Ran Baratz (former PM Office media adviser)

All in all, things moved very slowly, and more than once we sensed that someone was trying to prevent the funding. Eventually, we were told that the government had settled on a plan, whereby we would receive altogether five million NIS (1.4 million USD) from the budgets of the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs, the Ministry of Culture, and the Office of the Prime Minister. However, before the decision could be ratified, the chief counsel to the Ministry of Culture halted the process, citing a pre-election moratorium, despite other legal experts’ claims that no such problem exists for a process that began over two years ago.

Sadly, our case is being handled at a very sluggish pace. It appears that we won’t receive government funding before the elections, and it is doubtful that we will be able to restart the process afterwards. This puts us in a difficult position, but we hope that we will be able to keep afloat with donations from supporters in Israel and abroad, as we have done until now, until we have finished all research on the project’s finds.

And now for the good news:

Despite that we haven’t succeeded in receiving government funding, and despite that we haven’t yet raised funds for this from other sources, we are renewing the sifting in a new, permanent location, this summer! The sifting site will be set up in the “HaMasu’ot Lookout” compound, near to the Hebrew University on Mt Scopus. The site is more accessible by public transport than the previous location, without security complications, and has an abundance of parking space. We are planning to launch the activity on the forthcoming Jerusalem day, 28th of Iyyar, June 2nd.

Visitors at the HaMasu’ot Lookout

30% of the Temple Mount soil, currently residing in the Zurim Valley National Park, is still waiting to be sifted. Owing to the heavy research workload surrounding artifacts awaiting scientific publication, we planned on taking a longer break in the sifting. However, on recognition of the imminent threat to the remaining soil from erosion due to exposure to the elements, and to its mixing with other illegal refuse deposits, we realized that it was imperative to restart the sifting as soon as possible. In addition, a large amount of excavated soil remains on the Temple Mount itself, and in the light of events during the last month of Ramadan (June 2018), we saw that this earth is also in danger and needs to be sifted after finding a suitable controlled method for transferring it from the Mount.

Some of the Temple Mount dirt heaps that are stored at Tzurim Valley National Park. The heaps are in danger of erosion.

Despite that the project has yet to receive the promised government funding, we aren’t suspending the process of rescuing the remains of the Temple Mount heritage from the unsifted soil, together with advancing with their research and publication. The project has progressed so far thanks to wide public support, and we are asking you to continue your support until all sifting and research have been completed. Gaby always says that the project’s most important find is its people, and in truth we are only investing so much effort in trying to continue this important work for you.

In the coming weeks we will start marketing the sifting activity and setting up the site’s infrastructure. However, in order to ensure that the activity will be permanent and stable, we need to raise funds for the infrastructure and the activity in the first year; thereafter we hope that we will be able to operate the sifting site in an economically self-sustained way. We need your help with: 1) Donations to set up the infrastructure for the sifting and the first year of its activity. 2) Marketing the sifting activity. The more groups register, the less we will need to raise funds. See the How to Participate blog section for further details.

Thanking you for your continued support over the years!

The Temple Mount Sifting Project team.

The History of the Temple Mount in 12 Objects: #3 The Late First Temple Period

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As we continue with our 12-post series on objects in the history of the Temple Mount, let us turn to the Late First Temple period – Iron Age IIb-c, in the 8th through 6th centuries BCE.
During this time of the year, multitudes of business owners and legions of accountants spent many a sleepless night filling out forms, checking and double checking their numbers, all as part of a fundamental act to human society – paying taxes.
Taxes, in one form or another, have been around since the dawn of history – as soon as complex societies began to form. As long as people lived within small familial farms, they could afford to be jacks-of-all-trades and the same person could farm the fields during the day and guard them at night. But empires, kingdoms and even cities need full time guards and soldiers. And if you’re spending all your time patrolling – you’re not spending it growing food. Since the soldiers still need to eat (as do the judges, priests, rulers, etc.), food must be collected in the form of taxes and delivered to them. Enter another functionary of society – the clerk – who oversees the collection, storage and distribution of taxes.
The item we’ll be discussing this time was left behind by one such functionary.

This item, approx. 7x7mm in size is a sealing – a piece of clay, which, while still wet and soft, was affixed to a string used to tie up a rolled papyrus document. Looking at the righthand picture, you may be able to make out the impression left by the string and the strands of papyrus on the reverse side of the sealing.

On the left side, you can see the ancient Hebrew letters stamped into the sealing, which, despite two broken letters, can be read as saying Gibeon \ [belonging to the] king. The shape of the letters and comparison to similar artifacts date our sealing to the 7th century BCE.

This sealing belongs to a rare group known as “fiscal bullae”. Less than 60 of them were ever published, and until recently – all were unprovenanced artifacts from the antiquities market. This changed in the past few years, with the discovery of this sealing, which was also the first to mention Gibeon. Since then, excavations at the City of David have yielded two more sealings (bearing the names of Bethlehem and Eltekon, a city in the hills of Hebron). Another sealing, unearthed south-east of the Temple Mount, has yet to be published.

So, what exactly is a fiscal bulla? The term was coined by Prof. Nachman Avigad in the 90’s when he published a collection of sealings with some shared features. Avigad divided these sealings into two groups. The first group, into which our sealing fits quite nicely, was of sealings bearing three items of information:

  1. The date, as measured by years of the current king’s reign (our sealing is broken and missing its top third, so we cannot ascertain its exact date).
  2. The name of a city. To date, sealings bearing the names of 21 different towns have been published, mostly matching the list of Judean towns in Joshua 15.
  3. The word LMLK – “belonging to the king”.

The second group similarly showcased the date, but the 2nd and 3rd fields were replaced by a personal name – probably that of an official.

So why are these fiscal bullae so different? The answer lies in that final word – LMLK.

LMLK seal impression, discovered by Charles Warren at the foot of the south-east corner of the Temple Mount.

Many of our readers probably recognize this word from another type of artifact dating to the late days of the Kingdom of Judah (the 8th century BCE) – the LMLK jars. These jars, found throughout the Kingdom of Judah, bear on their handles a stamp impression comprised of a royal emblem, the word LMLK and the name of one of four cities: Hebron, Sochoh, Ziph and Mmšt.

These jars likely represent an elaborate economic system, which oversaw the collection of produce throughout the land via four central hubs. As a taxation system, these jars would likely end up in the royal granaries and storehouses.

The Bible gives some insight into the ancient Judean tax system. Most taxes mentioned in the Bible were the kind paid by the sweat of your brow – a period of forced labor, toiling to build governmental projects, but it also fell upon the residents of the kingdom to provide for the monarch. (1 Samuel 8:15-17, 1 Kings 5:7) This was likely done via the tax system discussed above – with local administrators, whose names appear on some of the fiscal bullae and LMLK jars, collecting agricultural produce.

The produce – such as grain, wine and oil — was collected in large sacks or earthenware jars. Sealings that were attached to these vessels helped prevent unauthorized tampering. Some of the so-called fiscal bullae, such as ours, were attached to documents such as receipts or bills of lading and still retain the impression of papyrus fibers, while others were attached to nothing at all and served as a token of debts paid.

Further information on the Judean taxation system can be extrapolated from similar systems in the ancient Near East: From regional hubs, the taxed produce would be transported to a central hub in the royal compound, there to be received by an official, whose job usually ran in the family. If we are indeed dealing with taxes related to the Temple, it is likely that this person would be a member of the Immer family, of which we know of two members connected to administrative duties on the Temple Mount: one who was a “Chief officer in the house of God” (Jer. 20:1) and the other, whose seal-impression was discovered in the sifting project. An upcoming post will discuss this sealing and what we can ascertain about the Temple treasury.

The Temple Mount in the Late First Temple Period

Those of you following this series of posts are already familiar with the royal compound erected on the Temple Mount in the time of King Solomon. Biblical times knew the mountain-top compound and the hill upon which it resided by different names. The terms “Temple” and “Temple Mount” were popularized by the sages in post-2nd Temple literature, but in the Bible, the Temple is mainly referred to as the “House of the Lord”, and the Temple Mount as Mount Zion, such as in Psalms 48:3, which describes the royal compound on Mount Zion, north of Biblical Jerusalem (in the Byzantine Period, the name “Mount Zion” shifted to a nearby hill, known to this day by that name).

The history of the Kingdom of Judah saw the Temple through some high and low points. The Biblical author has a clear vision of how things should be – the children of Israel worshiping one god in a single place – but constant reprimands against the people and their rulers tell us that this ideal was rarely realized and even when the all-present idolatry was curtailed, the people would still worship in individual shrines, eschewing the Temple. A few kings orchestrated religious reforms, but these rarely had lasting effect, and would need repetition within a few years. Hezekiah reopened the locked Temple doors and reinstituted the Passover sacrifice, (2 Chr. 29-30) and yet, three generations later, King Josiah is said to once again re-institute the Passover (2 Kings 23). And so at the celebration of Sukkot following the inauguration of the 2nd Temple, (Nehemiah 8:17) the festivities are not said to be like any of those seen at the 1st Temple, rather, a comparison is drawn from the olden days of Joshua.

Artifacts from this period discovered within the Temple Mount complex are sparse, and insufficient to paint a coherent picture, but some further information can be garnered from items discovered in the sifting. These finds are currently being cataloged, studied and analyzed, and their discussion is beyond the scope of this post.

The sealing discussed above provides a glimpse into the tax collecting system whose central hub was on the Temple Mount, but here we run into a problem – even though tough responsible archaeologists try to refrain from making arguments based on negative evidence, sometimes the absence is just overbearing. If indeed LMLK jars were brought from all over the kingdom to a royal compound located on the Temple Mount, we would have expected to find a significant amount of such jar handles in the sifted debris –

Remains of a royal storehouse discovered in the Ophel excavations. Did similar ones exist in the Temple Mount?

but in fact, only a single one was discovered. The conundrum intensifies when nearby discoveries are considered – many LMLK jar handles were discovered by excavators just outside the southern wall of the Temple Mount (including the first ones ever found – once again, by our all-time-favorite tunneler, Charles Warren). But perhaps this very fact points at a possible solution – the administrative center may have been in the southern part of the Temple Mount, possibly even beyond its current border. A significant number of sealings discovered in the Ophel excavations, including one bearing the name of King Hezekiah, gives further credence to this hypothesis. Of course, it is always possible that while the administration took place at the Temple Mount, the actual storehouses (treasuries) could have been in a separate location.

In summary, in the Late First Temple period, the Temple Mount complex served as a governmental and administrative center of the Judean monarchs, as well as a ritual religious center. The Temple itself obviously resided within the confines of the modern-day Temple Mount enclosure, but the administrative and palatial complexes are harder to pin down – they could have been included as well within the same area or in the Ophel, below the modern-day southern wall, or could have possibly spanned both areas alike.

Did the Temple Mount serve as a pilgrimage center throughout the First Temple period? What was the relation between the worship of the God of Israel and foreign deities within the Temple and its environs? Were there residential buildings atop the Temple Mount? These are only some of the questions to which archaeology may provide evidence that will shed light towards an answer, and we hope to be able to address them as we continue our research. But as of this moment, data from the sifting is still being processed, and other information from the Temple Mount is too scant to support any conclusions.

Join us next time, as we delve into the enigmatic Persian period!

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

Our New Mobile Sifting Program

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Students Sifting in the Community

The Mount Comes to You

Hello everyone, we have some news to share with you. The Temple Mount Sifting Project is renewing its activity outside the lab! For the first time in the history of archaeological research in Israel –the site will be coming to you. We will be bringing the antiquities-rich soil that was illegally removed from the Temple Mount in the late 90s to various communities and institutions throughout Israel. Students and volunteers will be able to sift through this material and take part in the important work of recovering the ancient artifacts within. A sifting activity was undertaken yesterday in the Yeshurun School in Petach Tikva – but this is just the beginning! We’ve already started taking requests from other communities throughout Israel.

This new archaeological program focuses on sifting the remaining earth from Solomon’s Stables that was illegally bulldozed from the Temple Mount in the late 90s. We’ve always encouraged our volunteers to take an active role in the salvage of artifacts buried in this soil, and over the years we’ve involved an unprecedented number of volunteers in our work. Because it is a sifting project, which can accommodate larger crowds than a traditional excavation, over 200,000 people have participated – a world record in archaeological research both in Israel and worldwide. Now, our project has been transformed into a mobile activity which can traverse the country and engage various schools, institutions, and communities.

As Zachi said, “we want to make Temple Mount heritage accessible to the entire Israeli public. In this new program, we now aim to reach the parts of the public who found it difficult to come to the sifting site in Jerusalem.”

The mobile sifting is accomplished by loading the soil onto a truck in large sacks which are then brought to the community’s site where sifting stations and a water system are set up. Each group or class participates in an activity that lasts for 2 hours (1.5 in the schools) and includes an educational presentation of the archaeology of the Temple Mount and the story of the Sifting Project. Then, the volunteers sift through the soil, collecting all the archaeological finds, which fascinates young and old alike.

Temple Mount soil being sifted in the city of Petach Tikva by Yeshurun High school students Photo Credit: Inbal Dasberg

Yeshurun High school principal, Rabbi Yaniv Cohen, expounded on the importance of the activity: “The sifting activity touches upon the past, and allows us to meet ourselves in the present, while showing a commitment towards the future. The act of sifting, while seemingly an act of separation, in fact enables us to come together and be a part of the unfolding story of Jewish history. This is doubly felt in Petach Tikva, with its strong commitment to Jerusalem.”

Students find ancient coin in community sifting. Photo Credit: Inbal Dasberg

“Seeing the students fascinated by the tangible interaction with the Temple Mount artifacts is exciting.” says archaeologist Haggai Cohen. “The students keep asking for a detailed explanation about each artifact they find, and with this hands-on experience, they are getting a deep education about the heritage of Jerusalem, its history, archaeology, and the cultures that formed it.”

As one student said, “We are having a lot of fun! We feel like we are taking part in a really important project finding old and important artifacts.”

We hope to reach every sector of society – Jews, Christians, and Muslims, religious and secular. The history of the Temple Mount shows that the Mount was an important center of activity for all the monotheistic religions for over three millennia.

We hope that we will receive the promised government funding soon. However, we will most likely need to set up some sort of matching program to continue with this mobile sifting program. If you would be interested in helping to sponsor a school or community, please be in contact with development@tmsifting.org.

BONUS: Finds in Honor of Jerusalem Day

Yehud coins from the Temple Mount. A barn own is depicted next to the lettersיהד (yhd) in ancient Hebrew script. These are both the first coins to be minted in Jerusalem and the first coins minted by Jews anywhere. Photo Credit: Zachi Dvira

In addition to resuming the sifting, in honor of Jerusalem Day, we’ve agreed to share with the public some of the special finds that they are currently researching. The sifting yielded a collection of over 6000 ancient coins, some of which were the first minted in Jerusalem, and by Jews. These rare coins were minted in Jerusalem in the end of the fourth century BCE, when Jerusalem served as capital of the semi-autonomous “Yehud” province of the Persian Empire. The coins were modeled after the most popular coin of the time – the Athenian Obol. The Jerusalemite coins copied the barn owl from the Greek coin, but changed the Greek letters ΑΘΕ, short for the name of the city of Athens, to the ancient Hebrew letters יהד – a short form of the name of the province Yehud Medinta. These coins mark the transition in trade from the use of gold, hacksilber (silver pieces), or other commodities to using a monetary system regulated by the authority which minted the coins.

Three of these Persian Period coins were found in the sifting of the Temple Mount soil, and another two tiny silver coins, too worn to read, are suspected to belong to this type as well. These coins are very rare. Not including those found by the Sifting Project, in the history of excavations of ancient Jerusalem, only five other such coins have been found. The relatively high number of such coins found by the Sifting Project is a result of the wet-sifting methodology perfected by the project, and the fact that the Temple Mount functioned as an administrative and commercial center during the early days of the Second Temple in addition to being the site of the Temple itself.

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