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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!

French Film Answers the UNESCO Jerusalem Resolution

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Great film by the French producer, Pier Rehov, answers the UNESCO Jerusalem resolution. The Sifting Project appears all over the film.

 

 

 

Not as you thought: The most significant archaeological work is in the lab and not at the dig…

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Many people ask us, what kind of processing do we do on our material before publishing – and why does it take so long? For a quick answer, take a look at the photo below – it tells us a little about the donkeywork behind the processing of artifacts. If you’d like to hear more about the behind-the-scenes work in our project, read on.

Table in the archaeology lab with thousands of pottery shards laid out on it in rows

Thousands of bowl rims from the Byzantine period, of the Fine Byzantine Ware type – Form 1, Variant B/D

As opposed to salvage excavations, in an academic excavation the main core of the archaeological work is carried out in the lab and not in the field. The average yearly excavation work consists of around a month of excavation on site; the remainder of the year is taken up with studying and processing the finds in the lab. In the case of the finds from the Temple Mount Sifting Project, the challenge of processing the material is more difficult since the artifacts were not uncovered in-situ, and hence we need to apply complex statistical calculations in our research with the aim of reconstructing the original context of the more frequent finds.

The collections of artifacts from the Temple Mount sifting process arrive at the lab as a kind of enormous jigsaw puzzle with hundreds of thousands of pieces. Initial sorting is carried out at the sifting site, where the finds are sorted by material (earthenware, metal, animal bones, etc.) and by major categories of find (pottery vessels’ rims, oil lamps, marble floor tiles, opus sectile floor tiles, sawn bones, burnt bones, etc). In the laboratory, the material undergoes further sorting, first by dating into time periods and then into classes of artifact (e.g. bowls, jars, cooking vessels, jugs, juglets etc.). In the next stage, the resolution of the sorting increases: each class is sorted into types (using criteria of shape, material, style, decoration etc.).  This stage constitutes the majority of the sorting work, and is termed “typology”. The next stage, as seen in the above photograph, entails sorting artifacts of each type by the area in which they were found in the soil dumps removed from the Temple Mount.

In a regular archaeological excavation that is carried out on site, archaeologists study and publish the finds in respect to the areas in which they were found, and the study of certain areas, and sometime even categories of artifacts, may be postponed to a later stage. In our case we cannot do this since the study of all the artifacts is inter-related – as in our analogy of the jigsaw puzzle. All the artifacts must be sorted first in order to understand the rest of the artifacts. This is because different types of artifact from the various time periods represented are scattered over the different parts of the dump. However, they are not scattered uniformly like a well-mixed salad, but are distributed over the different parts of the dump in varying patterns of concentration. What’s interesting here is that types of artifact that apparently came from the same original context are scattered in similar patterns – that is to say, they have similar statistical distributions over the areas of the dump. For this reason, where the dating or identity of some types of artifact is unknown, this information can be deduced from a different type of artifact displaying a sufficiently similar distribution in the dumps (whereas in a conventional excavation, this information may be deduced from other, identifiable, artifacts found in the immediate vicinity). The project has developed a novel statistical method which helps deduce the original context of artifacts extracted from dumps and earth fills.

For the statistical analysis of the pottery, we chose to sample only shards from rims of vessels. A vessel’s rim is its most indicative part in identifying the vessel type. In a regular dig, archaeologists generally discard most shards, retaining only those which were part of the vessel’s rim, although whole vessels may also be found, but usually they are significantly fewer than the pot shards. In our case, our pottery finds consist only of broken parts of vessels, shards. We have reached the stage where we have finally finished the typological sorting of the majority of the pottery shards, and have started to count and record them in a database as a precursor to the initial statistical analysis. To this end, we have enrolled volunteers (and here we acknowledge the great help given by Sari Sapir, Michael Swirsky and Dr. Ron Beals!). Since we’re talking here about a fantastic opportunity to learn about Jerusalem’s pottery history through the ages and get some great hands-on experience on the subject, we offered the task to archaeology students, at which point Keren Schwartzman, a 2nd year archaeology and chemistry student at the Hebrew University, jumped at the chance. This work includes sorting shards of each type by the dump section in which they were found, and then counting the groups and entering the data into the database. To this data are added measurements taken from samples of pot shards from each type, such as: maximum diameter, average circumference conservation percentage and more.

Exciting, no? Ok, so we got a little carried away… but ladies and gentlemen, this is archaeology! It’s fun to dig, but to reach significant conclusions we need to invest in exacting and thorough research. We’re dealing here with little kettle knobs, because each kettle has its own definitive kind of knob. When we start to understand the significance of each kind of knob, the slant of a rim, the thickness of a vessel wall, the hardness of the earthenware material, decorations and other properties, then business starts to get really interesting, and we can start to throw new light on the history of Jerusalem.

Researcher inspecting a pottery shard in front of a table containing heaps of pottery shards.

Haggai Cohen, Researchers Manager, in deep study of the shard he holds…

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