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Aren’t You Dying To Know?

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Find of the Month: January

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Singer Family and the Murex Shell

Aren’t you dying to know what this month’s “Find of the Month” is? Well, if you can’t tell from my bad pun, this month’s find of the month is a murex trunculus: a rock snail shell. It was found by the Singer family from Jerusalem, who were really excited to have found something so special. This shell is another piece to a puzzle we have been trying to put together here for years.

The murex family of snails are medium to large predatory, tropical, sea snails, also known as murexes or rock snails. They have elongated shells with spines of fronds and brightly colored inner surfaces. Aristotle used the word murex, and Vitruvius described the dye made from these shells, making this one of the oldest shell families still known today.

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Modern tzit tzit with blue strings mimicking tehelet

What makes the murex trunculus so special is that they are connected with the ancient process of making tehelet, the blue dye we know from the Bible that was used in priestly garments and the Israelites’ tzit tzit (fringes). This snail family was also used to make the purple dye known in the Bible as argaman.

Making tehelet or argaman requires special skills as well as a lot of snails. Dye can be collected by crushing the snails, or by laboriousy poking (milking) the snails and collecting the excretion. 12,000 snails might yield 1.4 g of dye, which is only enough to color the trim of a single garment.[1] Because of this, this Royal Blue or Royal Purple dye was very expensive, making it an almost exclusive sign of kingship and royalty. Interestingly, the color of this dye becomes more vibrant when left in the sun, and it is possible that different versions of the color can be made by making the dye in the sun or in the shade.

slide1Much of the production of this type of dye we attribute to the Phoenicians. The purple is also known as Tyrian purple (from the Phoenician city of Tyre). Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of dye production at Phoenician sites in Morocco and all across the Mediterranean, including Israel. There is a lot of evidence at Tel Dor for Phoenician dye production in the Iron Age as well as the merchandizing and trading of goods like colored fabrics and wool.

So what was this murex shell doing on the Temple Mount? Any time we find a shell, we know that it was used by humans because Jerusalem is too far from the sea for sea creatures (and their shells) to dwell there. This means that shells were brought to Jerusalem for a purpose. We have discovered over 20 of these murex trunculus shells in the sifting, and it leads us to wonder why. Is it possible that there was a workshop for dye production on the Temple Mount? Perhaps these shells were used to create the dye for fabrics used in the Temple. Maybe it was produced on site for purity reasons.

Unfortunately, we can’t date these shells until we have evidence that would link them to another, datable, artifact such as something else used in cloth or dye production. With more funding, we might be able to carbon date them, but each test costs about $400 and in order to reach statistical significance, we would need to test samples from 20 shells. Regardless, there is a lot of research yet to be completed on this, but these shells certainly raise a lot of really interesting questions.

Just because, check out this video see archaeologists extracting dye from one of these shells.

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[1] Jacoby, “Silk Economics and Cross-Cultural Artistic Interaction: Byzantium, the Muslim World, and the Christian West” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 58 (2004:197–240) p. 210.

Inspiring Supporters

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We love it when we inspire our supporters. We just got an email from Nancy in Washington who is a subscriber to the Biblical Archaeology Review. She said, “We have subscribed to BAR for many years! Imagine my surprise when my husband handed me the latest issue turned to page 58 and said “I have an idea for a quilt for you.” He was reading the article about the Temple Mount Floor tiles. There were three patterns used over and over again. I incorporated the 3 squares plus Herod’s Triangles around the edge. I made it to scale and used the colors found in the floor rubble from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.”

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Nancy and her beautiful quilt

We are amazed at the detail and beautiful work that went into this quilt. As Frankie put it, Nancy “did an an amazing job of capturing the essence of Herod’s beautiful opus sectile floors.”

What is really interesting is how similar the quilt is to the floor created for the Israel Museum’s exhibit, “Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey” that was on display in 2013.  The museum display was created from tiles that were found at Herodium, where Herod was buried, and from Cypros, a small Herodian palace on the ridge-line above Jericho.  Plaster replica tiles were then used to fill in the blank spaces.

Though the museum floor was not created from Temple Mount patterns or pieces, Nancy’s quilt is amazingly similar to the museum display! This shows how Herod used similar patterns and materials at these locations. This is how Frankie was able to use what she learned from Herodian, Banias, Cypros, Jericho, Masada and other patterns from the Roman world to reconstruct the patterns of the Temple Mount based on the pieces that were found in the sifting.

We are truly touched when we inspire our supporters. Please let us know if we’ve inspired you! Send us pictures and stories! Also, a special thanks goes out to Nancy for sharing her quilt with us. It is truly a work of art.

Archaeological Evidence of the Jewish Temples on the Temple Mount

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Model of the Second Temple at the Israel Museum

The Need for Proof of the Jewish Temples

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted today a biased and political resolution that disregards Judaism’s historic connection to the Temple Mount, casts doubts regarding the Jewish connection to the Western Wall, and protests against the Israel Antiquities Authority’s attempts to supervise construction work on and around the Temple Mount in order to preserve the antiquities and other archaeological data.

This is a purely political resolution that was composed by Palestinian officials and that was accepted by UNESCO as is. It seeks only to preserve the heritage of Islam, and while this is important, UNESCO must not do this at the expense of Jewish and Christian heritage and culture. This resolution does not recognize the daily reality of Jerusalem or the Temple Mount, and its political agenda is in opposition to UNESCO’s own charter and purpose of protecting and promoting science, culture, education and heritage.

The events in the past decades prove that Muslim authorities on the Temple Mount, which are officially controlled by Jordan but controlled by the Palestinian authority and Hamas in practice, have no concern of preserving even their own archaeological heritage, or advancing education, science, and culture at the site.

In 1999, the Muslim authorities excavated a gigantic pit in the south-eastern area of the Temple Mount using bulldozers and removing 400 truckloads of dirt. This was done without any archaeological control or supervision, and, as a result, we have established the Temple Mount Sifting Project in order to save, preserve, and study the vast amount of archaeological artifacts that were buried in this soil and discarded. We retrieved hundreds of thousands of artifacts from this soil dating to the First and Second Jewish Temple periods and onwards, including Christian and Muslim era artifacts that were discarded.

A very interesting Muslim artifact dating to the 18th century that was found is a seal of the prominent Muslim Qadi (Judge), who also served as the Jerusalem deputy Mufti. His name was Sheick ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Tamimi. The current Waqf administrator, Sheick Mohammed Azzam al-khatib al-Tamimi, the current director of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, is from the same family, and may be one of his descendants. It is ironic that Jewish archaeologists are the ones who preserve the Islamic Waqf heritage that was neglected and discarded by the Waqf itself.

The existence of the Jewish Temples are beyond any doubt. There is substantial evidence in the numerous historical sources that witnessed them, including Pagan historians that were not affected by the Jewish or Christian tradition, such as Berossus (3rd Century BCE), Menander of Ephesus (2nd Century BCE), Hecataeus of Abdera (c. 300 BCE), Mmaseas of Patara (c. 200 BCE), Diodorus of Sicily (1st century BCE), Strabo (1st century BCE), Tacitus (1st Century CE) and many others.

Although it is not possible in today’s political climate to conduct a proper archaeological excavation on the Temple Mount, there are many archaeological finds that support the almost universally accepted fact: it is the site of the Jewish Temples. Many of the artifacts come from the Temple Mount Sifting Project, and many others can either still be observed at the Temple Mount, were found accidentally during renovations, or were found in archaeological excavations at surrounding sites.

Following is a list of some selected artifacts from among many others:

1Temple Warning Inscription – In 1871, French archaeologist Clermont-Ganneau found a Greek inscription warning gentiles not to enter further into the temple compound. These kind of inscriptions were also witnessed by the 1st century CE historian, Josephus Flavius (War 5, v, 2; War 6, ii, 4; Antiquities 15, xi, 5).

2The Beit Hatekia Inscription – Archaeologist Prof. Benjamin Mazar in 1972 found this Hebrew inscription which had fallen from the south-western corner of the Temple Mount and was found in the rubble being excavated by archaeologists excavating nearby. The stone carries the inscription “lebeit hatekia lehakhriz” which means “to the house of the blowing of the trumpet to announce.” Jewish historians and rabbinical sources described the custom of blowing the trumpets from the Temple Mount in order to announce the time of the sabbath and sacred holy days (Sukka 5: 5; Babylonian Talmud Shabat 35: 2; Tosefta Sukka 4; Wars IV, X, 12).

sealDKA LYH seal – In 2011, Archaeologist Eli Shukrun found a tiny fired clay object stamped with an inscription consisting of the Hebrew letters דכא ליה (“DKA LYH” or ”Deka Leyah”) in a drainage tunnel at the foot of the southern end of the Western Wall. Talmudic scholar, Prof. Shlomo Naeh, convincingly showed that this is a unique object that was used as a token / voucher that enabled the Temple administrator priests to keep track of commerce related to sacrificial offerings. This practice is documented in the Mishna, the first written redaction of Jewish Oral Law dating to around 200 CE (Shekalim 5: 3-5). The inscription upon the seal marks the type of sacrifice: “Dekhar” (ram), “Aleph” (first day of the week) and “Yehoyariv” (one of the twenty-four priestly families who worked shifts in the Temple).

4High Priest Golden Bell – In the same excavation at the drainage tunnel by Eli Shukrun, a golden bell was found dating to the Second Temple period. There is no precedent for this artifact from any excavation in Israel. Our only knowledge of such an object is from the biblical description of the bells sewn to the garment worn by the high priest (Ex. 28:33-34).

5Miqvaot – Numerous Miqvaot (Jewish ritual immersing purification baths) were found in the areas surrounding the Temple Mount. There are also documented underground cavities upon the Temple Mount that were surveyed by explorers in the 19th century. One less known cistern which is located directly under the Al-Aqsa mosque was found by the British Mandate Antiquities Department in the 1940’s, but was never published. We found the documentation of this Miqveh in the British Antiquities Department archives and published it in 2008.

6Herodian Architecture – Several locations upon the Temple Mount, especially the Double Gate entry halls under the Al-Aqsa mosque, preserve until today one of the finest examples of Herodian art engraved on stone. Several gates of today’s Temple Mount still preserve remnants of gates from the Late Second Temple Period.

7Eastern Wall’s section from the First Temple Period – The lower courses north and south of the Golden Gate in the eastern wall are dated by Temple Mount scholars to the First Temple Period (see Leen Riymeyer, The Quest 2006). The drafting of these stones resembles masonry stones from walls in other sites dated to the First Temple period.

8First Temple Period refuse pit at the eastern slopes of the Temple Mount – In 2009, we uncovered an ancient refuse pit on the slopes of the Temple Mount, which yielded rich archaeological material dating from the 10th century BCE (the time of King Solomon) to the 7th century BCE. The finds included a unique seal impression with an inscription that describes a tax that were given to the King from the city of Gibeo’n. According to the biblical descriptions, the house of the king was also situated on the Temple Mount.

9First Temple Period assemblage found in Waqf electrical wire trench – During the Waqf’s excavation of a trench in 2007 supervised by the Israel Antiquities Authority, a rich First Temple period assemblage was found just southeast of the raised platform of the Temple Mount. It included pottery, bones and fragments of figurines dating to the 6th century BCE, the later days of the First Temple period.

10A Water cistern at the southeast corner of the Raised Platform – A large underground water cistern documented by the researchers of the 19th century was recently dated by archaeologist Tzvika Tzuk to the First Temple period according to similarly shaped water cisterns recovered in other sites.

Artifacts from the Soil Discarded from the Temple Mount

The following were all found by the Temple Mount Sifting Project.

11Imer Seal Impression – The most direct evidence ever found of the First Temple comes from a tiny seal impression made of clay that was originally attached to a fabric sack, possibly containing silver or gold. The seal bears the inscription: “(Belonging to) […]lyahu (son of) Immer”. The Immer family was a well-known priestly family at the end of the First Temple period, around the 7th – 6th Centuries BCE. Pashhur son of Imer is mentioned in the Bible as “Chief officer in the house of God” (Jer. 20:1). It may be assumed that this object sealed some precious goods that were kept in the Temple treasury which was managed by the priests. This sealing is the first ever evidence of ancient Hebrew writing from the Temple Mount and of the administrative activity which took place in the First Temple.

Artifacts from the time of King Solomon – Some of the artifacts found by the Sifting Project date to the 10th-9th centuries BCE, the time of King Solomon, builder of the First Temple, and his successors. These artifacts are rare in Jerusalem and they have brought forth critical evidence in the heated debate about the size of Jerusalem in this period. Some scholars in the past doubted that the Temple Mount was annexed to Jerusalem during the 10th century BCE. They suggest that Jerusalem was not a capital city but rather a small village. These artifacts contradict this minimalist assertion and confirm the biblical account regarding Jerusalem during this period. The finds include pottery sherds, a rare stone seal that is conical in shape, and a rare arrowhead.

13Half-Shekel Silver Coin – From the Second Temple period the Sifting Project has recovered over 800 Jewish coins. Many of the coins from the late Second Temple period seem to be burnt, probably as a result of the fire that led to the destruction of the Temple. A particularly exciting find is a rare silver coin minted during the first year of the Great Jewish Revolt against Rome (66/67 C.E.). The coin features a branch with three pomegranates and an inscription in ancient Hebrew script reading “holy Jerusalem” (ירושלמ קדשה). The reverse side of the coin features temple vessels and is inscribed “half shekel” (חצי השקל).

These half-shekel coins were used to pay the Temple tax during the Great Revolt, replacing the Tyrian shekel used previously. It appears that these half-shekel coins were minted by the Temple authorities on the Temple Mount itself. This half-shekel tax for the sanctuary, mentioned in the Book of Exodus (30:13–15), required every male to pay half a shekel to the Holy Temple once a year. Our half-shekel coin is well preserved but bears scars of the conflagration that destroyed the Second Temple in 70 C.E.

 

14Herodian Temple Courts Lavish Paving – Hundreds of opus sectile stone tiles were found in the sifting. Opus sectile (Latin: “cut work”) is a technique of paving floors in lavish geometric patterns using meticulously cut and polished polychrome tiles. Many of the tiles have been dated to the Late Second Temple period based on parallels found in Herodian palaces. Their dimensions are based on fractions of the Roman foot (c. 29.6 cm). Flavius Josephus, writing about the open courts surrounding the Temple, says, “Those entire courts that were exposed to the sky were laid with stones of all sorts” (Jewish War 5:2) Lately we have managed to reconstruct some of the patterns of these special floors using geometrical principles and through similarities found in floor designs used by Herod at other sites.

For more information about the Temple Mount Sifting Project, check out the Nov/Dec 2016 issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review.

Jewish Linkage to the Temple Mount after the Temple Destruction

The Jewish rabbinical sources during all centuries after the Second Temple’s destruction in year 70 CE indicate that the site was the focus of Jewish prayers and thoughts. In addition, several Jewish graffiti inscriptions were found within the Temple Mount done by Jewish pilgrims during the medieval periods. This is in spite of the difficulties and bans put upon Jews dwelling and visiting in Jerusalem. These inscriptions indicate a continuous linkage of the Jewish people to their holiest site.

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A potsherd bearing a symbol resembling the Temple’s menorah was found in the sifting. Based on its clay type and texture, the potsherd dates to the period of Byzantine rule over Jerusalem , from 324 to 640 CE or the beginning of Early Islamic Period (7th-8th Century CE) showing that even then, there was a connection to the Jewish Temple that had been destroyed.

Documents that were found in the Cairo Geniza tell us about the Jewish residents of Jerusalem during the Early Islamic period who had a custom to encircle the Temple Mount and pray in front of the Temple Mount gate. One of the most prominent Jewish rabbis in the Medieval Era, the Rambam, wrote that he entered the Temple Mount and set upon himself a private annual feast day for that occasion.

Summary

As mentioned above, due to the comprehensive historical sources and Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions about the Temple Mount, there is no need for archaeological evidence to prove the existence of the Jewish Temple upon the Temple Mount. Unfortunately, the Temple Denial agenda that was created 20 years ago and promoted by Palestinian politicians and religious leaders managed to expand to some Arab scholars and apparently has also now been adopted by UNESCO. Since they claim that no archaeological artifact proving the existence of the Jewish Temples upon the Temple Mount was ever found, it is important to bring this proof and research regarding these very real artifacts to the general publish.

If you would like to donate and help us continue our research on this important subject,

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