Amazing Discovery in Heart of Biblical Jerusalem

By: Davod Hazony
Special to the CJN

Recent archaeological find,
thought by some to be the
biblical palace built by
King David, stirs
controversy over the
right of the Jewish
people to claim

In what many archaeologists hail as the potential find of the century, remains of a massive structure dating to the time of King David have been discovered in the heart of biblical Jerusalem.

Eilat Mazar, the Israeli archaeologist leading the excavation, has suggested that it may, in fact, be the palace built by David as described in the Bible.

The discovery has shaken the already contentious field of biblical archaeology to its roots: For the last few years, a number of respected archaeologists n most prominently Israel Finkelstein, chairman of Tel Aviv University"s archaeology department and author of the 2001 best-seller The Bible Unearthed n have argued that the biblical accounts of Jerusalem as the seat of a great and united monarchy under the rule of David and Solomon are false. If Mazar"s hypothesis proves right, it would go a long way toward proving Finkelstein and the others wrong.

Her findings will also doubtlessly affect the broader political battle over Jerusalem n that is, the question of whether the Jewish people has its origins in the city and thus has a special hold over it, or whether the concept of a Jewish origin in Jerusalem is nothing but a myth.

With such a potentially powerful find, there will naturally be no shortage of skeptics, whether for reasons of politics or scholarship. Yet there are many good reasons to identify Mazar’s find, at least provisionally, as the palace described in the Book of Samuel. These reasons deserve to be heard.

According to archaeological evidence, Jerusalem was founded two millennia before David arrived on the scene in 1000 B.C.E. Because of its unique topography n a high hill nestled between two deep valleys that converge at its southern point, graced with abundant sources of water and exposed to attack only along a ridge from the north n the location proved ideal for the capital of a kingdom.

Therefore, David did not destroy the city when he conquered it from the Jebusites, but rather added to it. The most notable addition was the palace built by the Phoenician king, Hiram of Tyre, as a gesture of friendship.

Based on the biblical account, coupled with textual clues as to the topography and findings previously published by Kathleen Kenyon, Mazar formulated her proposal as to the location of the palace in a 1997 article in Biblical Archaeology Review.

"If some regard as too speculative the hypothesis I shall put forth in this article,"  she wrote, "my reply is simply this: Let us put it to the test in the way archaeologists always try to test their theories n by excavation."  In early 2005, with the support of the Jerusalem-based Shalem Center, the City of David Foundation, and Hebrew University, Mazar did just that.

The evidence she found is remarkable: A section of a massive wall, which runs about 100 feet from west to east before making a right-angle turn heading south, implies the existence of a very large building. Other findings include pottery shards, discovered in the dirt fill between the stones of the wall, which were dated to the 11th century B.C.E., the earliest possible date of the building’s construction.

Additionally, the building is positioned directly on bedrock along the city’s northern edge with no archaeological layers beneath it. This implies that the structure, built two millennia after the city’s founding, constituted a new, northward expansion of the city’s limits, as described in the biblical account. It is located at what was then the very summit of the mountain n a reasonable place for the palace from which David is said, in II Samuel (5:17), to have "descended." 

Finally, Mazar discovered a remarkable clay bulla, or signet impression, bearing the name of Yehuchal Ben Shelemiah, a Judean prince from the time of King Zedekiah mentioned by name in Jeremiah 37:3. This evidence suggests that four centuries after David, the site was still an important seat of Judean royalty. This matches the biblical account of the palace being in continuous use from its construction until the destruction of Judea by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.

The evidence seems to agree surprisingly well with Mazar’s claim that this could be David’s palace. The location, size, style, and dating of the building all match the textual description. Moreover, there are no finds that suggest the contrary, such as the idolatrous statuettes or ritual crematoria found in contemporary Phoenician settlements. Furthermore, the building appears in an ancient world where such constructions were extremely rare and represented the greatest sort of public works. Finally, the evidence fits well with previous archaeological finds from the site.

Naturally, many archaeologists, having been trained in a scholarly world wary of religious enthusiasts, will be extremely reluctant to identify any new archaeological find with particulars found in the Bible. Others, driven by a combination of interests, ideologies, or political agendas, will seize on any shred of uncertainty in the building’s identification to distract attention from the momentousness of the find. Both groups will invoke professionalism and objectivity to undermine the proposition that this was David’s palace: They will either raise the bar of required proofs to a standard that no archaeological find could ever meet, or they will simply dismiss it all as wishful thinking in the service of religious or Zionist motives.

Yet even if this is not in fact David’s palace, there is no doubt that we are talking about an archaeological find of revolutionary proportions. It is still the first discovery of a major construction from the early Israelite period in Jerusalem.

No longer is it reasonable to claim, as many revisionist archaeologists have done, that the absence of evidence from the relevant period shows that the great unified monarchy of David and Solomon was really an imaginary historiosophic creation. It is thus significant that the normally reserved Amihai Mazar, cousin of Malat Mazar and one of the most esteemed scholars in the field of biblical archaeology and author of the standard textbook Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, 10,000 - 586 B.C.E., has described the discovery as "something of a miracle." 

Furthermore, so long as we are willing to admit that possible future evidence may prompt a different conclusion, there is no reason not to identify this building as David’s palace. Put simply, we have before us two things: A biblical text describing in detail the creation of a Phoenician-style palace by David on a particular mountain around the end of the eleventh or beginning of the tenth century B.C.E.; and a grand Phoenician style structure dating from the same time on the summit of that very mountain, located with assistance from the text and previous archaeological discoveries.

Is this absolute proof? No. But surely it is enough to shift the burden of proof. For in the end, the theory that this is David’s palace is thus far the best explanation for the data. As Mazar herself says, "Anyone who wants to say otherwise ought to come up with a better theory.

This is neither wishful thinking nor an imagined past. It’s good science.

David Hazony is editor-in-chief of Azure A longer version of this piece appears in the journal’s autumn 2005 issue.