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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!

How Much Does It Weigh?

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Find of the Month: February!

After a week away in the field, it is so nice to be back at the Sifting Project. It is my pleasure to present February’s “Find of the Month!” Now, this find requires a lot more research because it is pretty rare.

image-1Nicolle Perez from Ma’ale Adumin found this round stone that is likely to be a scale weight. It was her first time volunteering at the Sifting Project and she was really excited to have found something that could potentially be very important to our understanding of the history of the Temple Mount. It is amazing how something so small can provide so much information.

We have found a number of weights in the sifting. Our expert in weights is still looking for parallels that match this stone, because it is unlike most of the other weights we have found in the sifting. By parallels of shape and raw material, this stone is likely from the First Temple period, but more research is necessary to eliminate other possibilities.

In antiquity, before coins were used, weights were used to regulate and measure trade and barter. Most often, these weights would be used to weigh small pieces of silver which were traded as “currency,” although still very different from coinage.

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A 4 Gerah Judean scale weight found by the Sifting Project

Weights were used across the ancient world from India to the Aegean and beyond. In the land of Judah, including of course Jerusalem, the system of measurement for weights was based on the Shekel and is also mentioned numerous times in the Old Testament.

The shekel had many sub-units. This meant things could be weighed by half a shekel, or commonly in multiples of 2, 4, and 8 and deviations of Beqa, Pym, and Nesef. We know of Beqa and Pym from the Bible as well as smaller deviations known as Gerah.  The system was centered on a central unit of c. 11.33g.

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Judean scale weight

More than 500 inscribed Judean scale weights from the Iron Age have been found and published and they create a very homogenous weight-system. Most of these weights are made of local limestone and shaped as domes with flat bases. Many are inscribed with the names of the various units of measurement such as the Nesef and Pym, while smaller units (Gerah weights) and larger units (multiples of the Shekel) are often inscribed with hieratic numerals. Across Judah, these weights appeared in the 8th century BCE, but they mainly come from the stratigraphic layers dating to the 7th century BCE. Recent research done in Khirbet Qeiyafa by our own expert of scale weights show that the system of the Judean Shekel was used as early as the 10th century BCE.  It seems as though weights went out of use by 586 BCE and did not function by the time of the Persian period where we see the first coins.

The first dome shaped weights were found in Jerusalem in 1881 by the German excavator Hermann Guthe. Judean scale weights have been found in large numbers in almost every excavation of the Iron Age ever done in Jerusalem, supporting the fact that Jerusalem in the First Temple Period was a center of economic activity. This may possibly also support the idea that the Temple itself was a center of the economy.

Some scholars argue that the Temple might have used a slightly different system of weights from the daily shekel, and it is possible that they were marked in a different way. More research needs to be done on this “Shekel of the Sanctuary” mentioned in the Priestly Code of the Pentateuch (Torah) and in Ezekiel. It is possible that this weight system was a later creation in the history of weights, but still dating before the use of coins. It is also possible that the economic system of the Temple was connected with the royal house, as the Kings of Judah made decisions regarding the property of the Temple in times of emergency and supervised its maintenance (II Kings). Only a few weights have been found that might match the biblical accounts of this separate but connected system of weights and measurements. Perhaps more weights found from the Temple Mount itself would help archaeologists better understand this system of measurement and commerce.

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A selection of various weights (not all of the same system) found by the Sifting Project

Bar Ilan Conference

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Tomorrow is the 22nd Annual New Studies on Jerusalem Conference at Bar Ilan University. Dr. Aaron Greener will be presenting his research on the figurine assemblage found by the Temple Mount Sifting Project.

Our research on figurines has been a hot topic recently. You may have seen our “Find of the Month” in October about the Korshaya sisters who found the leg of an Iron Age figurine, most likely of a horse. You may also have participated in our “Name That Find” competition that was the snout of an Iron Age horse figurine.

With all of the buzz about our figurines, and the upcoming conference, we wanted to share with you the excerpts from Aaron’s presentation. Our project’s wet sifting method enables us to find the small fragments usually missed at other sites. 15% of our ceramic finds date to the Iron Age II, First Temple Period and include almost 150 typical Judahite figurine fragments. Their dating is based on style, morphology, manufacturing method, plastic details, and decorations.

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Some of the TMSP Figurine Assemblage

Aaron has discovered a unique distribution of figurines from our sifting. Our assemblage has an absence of foreign figurines and a high percentage of bird/pinched nose head fragments. The identity and function of Judahite figurines are complex issues surrounded by debate in Archaeology and Biblical Studies. Though “foreign” attributes are found in most Judahite sites, our assemblage has none. Though the statistics on this research has been completed, we have only theories about why this assemblage is distributed in this way. We suggest that the absence of foreign motifs in the Temple Mount figurine assemblage may be related to a Judahite rejection of outside influences during the Iron Age II, which found it greatest manifestation in the cultic and national center on the Temple Mount.

We hope that comments and other research from the conference will help to explain this anomaly further, and we will update you with any further research.

Excerpt: Iron Age II Figurine Fragments from the Temple Mount Soil
Aaron Greener, Gabiel Barkay and Zachi Dvira (Zweig)

The repertoire and ratios of the various TMSP figurine types are similar to the ones from most other excavations in Jerusalem and Judah. A closer examination and comparison, however, highlights several significant patterns. Firstly, all the Jerusalem excavations demonstrate low proportions of mold-made heads, and indeed, all three TMSP human heads were pinched. This would fit well with Erin Darby’s suggestion regarding the popularity of the pinched heads in Jerusalem, and its possible ideological significance. Secondly, the TMSP has a greater presence of animal heads that are not horses than any other site in or outside of Jerusalem. Thirdly, zoomorphic vessels are rare and miniature furniture models are totally absent.

The most significant characteristic of the TMSP figurine assemblage comes from a broader look at the Iron Age II figurines from neighboring regions (Northern Israel, Philistia, Phoenicia and Trans-Jordan). This examination highlights the basic similarities as well as the figurines’ differing regional characteristics and styles. Outside of Judah there are many plaque figurines, peg figurines, hollow and wheel-made anthropomorphic figurines, women playing drums, animal heads with unique characteristics and applied details, and almost all the human heads are mold-made. A small quantity of figurines with these “foreign” attributes are found in most Judahite sites. None, however, were found in the Temple Mount soil, the Temple Mount’s eastern slope or in the Ophel Excavations south of the Temple Mount. All the figurines from these sites are of the basic and simple Judahite types. It had already been suggested that sites situated close to the heart of the Judahite kingdom usually have less figurines with foreign influences than sites in the Kingdom’s periphery. A similar patterns has been recognized also in Philistia, where more foreign (Judahite) influences were recognized inland than along the coast. We suggest that the reason for the absence of foreign motives in the Temple Mount figurine assemblage may be related to a Judahite rejection of outside influences during the Iron Age II, which found it greatest manifestation in the cultic and national center on the Temple Mount. 

Making Seal Impressions

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As you know, the first 25 donors from our Annual Appeal are going to receive a clay seal impression (Bulla in Hebrew) that we made from one of our 10th century BCE stamps found in the sifting. Those lucky few will get a bulla and a whole explanation, but we thought we would share the process with all of you as well!

The 10th century BCE falls within the Iron Age and is the time period of the Jebusites, from whom David conquered Jerusalem—as well as the construction of the Temple by his son, King Solomon. Other similar seals found in Israel dating from the late 11th to the beginning of 9th centuries BCE allow us to date our seal to this time period as well. The stamp seal that we used is conical in shape and made of brown limestone. Two animals, one above the other, are carved on its circular base, maybe representing predator and prey. The seal is perforated which enables it to be hung on a string and worn.

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Imer Bulla. Notice it is broken and there is an impression of the sack on the back

In antiquity, legal or administrative documents, or other objects or goods that needed to be authenticated and approved were “signed” using a stamp seal. (Personal items could also be stamped. We have a number of stamped handles from clay vessels that have been found in the sifting.) But how do we get bullae? A document was rolled and tied, or a package of goods was tied with a string. On the knot of the string was a piece of clay that was then stamped with a seal. These seals could either be worn on a string, like the one that we used, or set into a piece of jewelry such as a ring. The bulla is the clay seal impression left behind. In order to open the document or package, the bulla would be broken. This was a great form of protection, but could also be the reason than all of the bullae we have found are broken.

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Bulla made in our lab

How We Made the Bullae

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First, we mixed regular store bought clay with some of the ashy Temple Mount soil left over from the sifting. This is called tempering the clay. Untempered clay will shrink and crack during drying or firing. In ancient times, as today, different forms of temper are added to wet clay in order to provide greater strength. Sand, crushed rock, or even crushed broken pottery can be used as temper, and each material, and the percentage of temper used, affects the finished product. Haggai added about 5% Temple Mount soil to the clay. (Right)

Next, a marble sized piece of clay was then folded around a string. We then used the stamp seal to impress the clay onto a sack. (The seal is stone, and was therefore unaffected by the clay. Don’t worry! We take care of our artifacts!) The impressions are real, but they are modern and not an antiquity. We therefore wrote “copy” on the back so that none of these bullae will be mistaken for antiquities or sold on the black market.

Finally, the impressions were burned in a fire. Because fires, unlike ovens, do not have a consistent temperature, some of the bullae blackened while others maintained their brownish color. Some also fell into the ashes. All of this actually made these bullae look much like the seal impressions that we have found at the Sifting Project.

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20170105_135709We then boxed them up in the cardboard finds boxes that archaeologists know so well and gave them their own artifact tag. Archaeologists need to label where their important finds were found, so tags always include the site, the area, the locus, and the basket number designating the place that the artifact was found. They also include the date and a short description. Our seal impressions don’t have a real provenance, so the numbers on our tags are the actual numbers from the seal itself!

Watch the whole process!!

I don’t know about you, but this whole process has made me want my own stamp seal. I could send letters sealed in wax! I wonder what the post office would think… I have vivid memories of doing that with my dad and sealing letters with old coins and green wax.

Find of the Month: October

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This October, sisters Or and Naya Korshaya found the leg of a figurine, most likely of a horse. Though they are from Jerusalem, it was their first time at the Sifting Project. Finding something so special was a great way to spend the day and it sparked an interest in archaeology!

Most of the figurines found by the Sifting Project are from the Iron II period (8th-6th centuries BCE) and may be related to cultic activities. Our expert, Aaron Greener, is researching these figurines, which provide an important addition to the thousands of similar figurines found in Judahite sites from that time period.

The Sifting Project does not have any completely intact figurines, but rather small broken pieces, most broken in antiquity. We have a number of female pillar figurines and a variety of four legged animals. Most of these are horses and some of them have riders. It would be interesting to know if the leg found by the Korshaya sisters was from a horse with a rider, but because we only have the bottom of the leg, we can’t see the leg of a rider if there were one.

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Other fragments of figurines found by the Sifting Project

Because of their fragmented condition, some scholars have related the broken figurines of the Iron Age Judahite sites to the biblical account of Hezekiah’s or Josiah’s religious reforms. According to the Bible, symbols of idol worship were systematically destroyed and abolished.

Aaron will be presenting his research at the Annual Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies Conference in January and will be published in the first volume of our planned publication.

Thank you so much to the Korshaya family for volunteering with us and finding something so valuable to Israeli archaeology and our understanding of the Temple Mount.

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