Eilat Mazar has announced the uncovering of a rather significant wall and gate complex on the Ophel in Jerusalem. The reference of its significance is not all that clear to me. The Trumpet has an English version of Arutz Sheva’s Hebrew account. The Arutz Sheva article has better pictures. Here’s part of the English version,
A section of an ancient city wall of Jerusalem from the 10th century bce—possibly built by King Solomon—has been revealed in archaeological excavations directed by Dr. Eilat Mazar and conducted under the auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The wall, 70 meters long and 6 meters high, is located in the area known as the Ophel, between the City of David and the southern wall of the Temple Mount.
Before I go further, let me say that I tend to think that a Solomon ruled from Jerusalem in the 10th century. I might want to quibble about the exact dates and scale of his rule. But I don’t think it perverse to think otherwise. I also think that Jerusalem at the time was considerably less grandiose than one might glean from an uncritical reading of the Hebrew Bible. My reasons for these opinions are rather complex and well beyond the scope of any one blog post.
With that out of the way, let’s look at another couple of paragraphs from The Trumpet article.
Pottery shards discovered within the fill of the lowest floor of the royal building near the gatehouse also testify to the dating of the complex to the 10th century bce. Found on the floor were remnants of large storage jars, 1.15 meters in height, that survived destruction by fire and that were found in rooms that apparently served as storage areas on the ground floor of the building. On one of the jars there is a partial inscription in ancient Hebrew indicating it belonged to a high-level government official.
“The jars are the largest ever found in Jerusalem,” said Mazar, adding that “the inscription on one of them shows that it belonged to a government official, apparently the person responsible for overseeing the provision of baked goods to the royal court.”
In addition to the pottery shards, cult figurines were also found in the area, as were seal impressions on jar handles with the word “to the king [lmlk in Hebrew],” testifying to their usage within the monarchy. Also found were seal impressions (bullae) with Hebrew names, also indicating the royal nature of the structure. Most of the tiny fragments uncovered came from intricate wet sifting done with the help of the salvaging Temple Mount Sifting Project, directed by Dr. Gabriel Barkai and Zachi Zweig, under the auspice of the Nature and Parks Authority and the Ir David Foundation. [emphasis added]
Here’s the problem. The only clearly datable objects illustrated in either article are jar handles of the lmlk variety. As far as I know, all other such jar handles from dateable contexts are from around the time of Hezekiah and not from the 10th century BCE. That doesn’t mean that the wall wasn’t built much earlier, even as early as the 10th century. Walls were often in use for a considerable period of time. But the pottery evidence illustrated in the article doesn’t, on its own, support a 10th century BCE date.
To be sure, Mazar tells us that she found material datable to the 10th century BCE. But without seeing any of it, it is impossible to verify her conclusion. The current debate over Iron Age ceramic chronology makes the whole issue all the more complex. What some, like Mazar, would date to the 10th century others would date to the 9th. Of course, the stuff about overseer of baking goods is pure speculation.
Now let’s look at another piece of evidence from the article.
The 6-meter-high gatehouse of the uncovered city wall complex is built in a style typical of those from the period of the First Temple like Megiddo, Beersheva and Ashdod. It has a symmetrical plan of four identical small rooms, two on each side of the main passageway.
But aren’t these four chamber gates post 10 century BCE by nearly everyone’s account, not that the article actually claims otherwise.
Here’s the real problem: without the field report, which will be some time in coming, and in the context of the current debates, attributing this wall to Solomon’s reign is nothing more than hype and I’m afraid pandering hype at that.
Update: Todd Bolen at Bible Places writes,
Concerning Mazar’s “discoveries” announced earlier today, I think that some readers would be interested in the report given in the New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land (1993). A section on the Ophel was written by Hillel Geva and I quote it at length because (1) it reveals what was discovered in the previous excavation that appears to be re-reported as new today and (2) it indicates that the identification of the building as a gate was the excavator’s identification. I have marked some statements in bold for emphasis.
And then he quotes at some length from the encyclopedia. Here’s the money line, “The quality of the construction is impressive, featuring thick walls founded on bedrock, sometimes preserved to a height of some 4 m. The first stages of these buildings date to the ninth century BCE, at the earliest . . .”
Todd concludes, “The only thing that appears to have changed is the date (back now to the time of Solomon).”