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The City of David After Five Years of Digging, Hershel Shanks, BAR 11:06, Nov-Dec 1985.

Hezekiah's TunnelYigal Shiloh releases preliminary report on excavations in oldest inhabited area of Jerusalem

Thirty-one pages is a slim product for five years of excavation—even if it is only a preliminary report. So it has been said of the text of Yigal Shiloh’s reporta on his excavations in the City of David, the oldest inhabited area of Jerusalem.

The criticism, however, is unjustified—not because there are also four pages of densely packed endnotes; not because there are also 34 pages of maps, plans and drawings; not because there are also 41 pages of plates, often with several pictures to a page; and not because the writing is remarkably clear and condensed (a tribute to translator Rafi Graiman as well as to author Shiloh). The criticism is unjustified because this volume provides a remarkable picture of the results of the excavation. True, all the evidence is not here. And professionals who want the proof for the conclusions will miss it. They will have to wait for the final report. But the results—in considerable detail—are here in drawings, pictures and words.

It is an exciting—even awe-inspiring—story, although many may find these adjectives somewhat inappropriate to a dry, preliminary archaeological report, intended mostly for a specialized, professional audience. Admittedly, this story does take some reading between the lines, but it is all there, despite the fact that this is a slim volume. That is what is remarkable about it.

The City of David is the name given to the spur or ridge that hangs south, below the Temple Mount, outside the present walls of the Old City. Shiloh found evidence that this area was first settled in the Chalcolithic period (last half of the fourth millennium B.C.). That’s 5,500 years ago. Nobody had known that the settlement of Jerusalem went back so far. Time and again, Shiloh found things no one knew before, despite the fact that Jerusalem is the most excavated site in the ancient Near East. There have been at least six major excavations of the site and numerous minor ones. Dame Kathleen Kenyon, the famous British archaeologist, led excavations that ended in 1967, the last major dig before Shiloh’s. Dame Kathleen died in 1978,1 alas, without writing a final report of her excavations.

In one of her popular books on Jerusalem,2 Kenyon stated that she did “not believe that opportunities for [stratigraphical] excavations survive [in this area]. … If they do, I wish the excavators luck.”

Well, Shiloh has taken her up on the challenge and come up with a winner.

From the Chalcolithic period, Shiloh found only pottery sherds. The earliest remains of a structure, however, belong to the Early Bronze Age I and II (3000–2800 B.C.)—a dwelling typical of the period.
Certain periods are missing from the archaeological record- Early Bronze III (2500–2000 B.C.), Middle Bronze I (2000–1800 B.C.), Middle Bronze IIC (1700–1550 B.C.) and Late Bronze I (1550–1300 B.C.). But this does not necessarily mean that the site was unoccupied at these times. Additional periods are missing at various excavation squares on the site; some periods are missing at all squares; but there may be evidence of these periods in areas not yet excavated. As Shiloh observes, “The builders in each stratum sought to found their structures directly on bedrock, and thus often damaged earlier strata, which occasionally were even destroyed altogether” (p. 25). Kathleen Kenyon failed to fully appreciate the fact, says Shiloh, that not all occupational levels will show up in each excavation square; thus the conclusions she reached on the basis of “minor and limited sectional trenches” often led to mistaken conclusions (p. 35, note 116).

In about 1800 B.C. (Middle Bronze II), Jerusalem was walled for the first time. Halfway down the eastern slope of the City of David Kenyon found about 65 feet of this wall, which she correctly dated. The wall had been reused in later periods. Shiloh found an additional 200 feet of this wall—at some points nearly ten feet thick. Thus, from about 1800 B.C. on, Jerusalem was a strongly fortified city protected by a massive, solid (as opposed to casemate) wall. This defense line, often rebuilt, served the city for more than 1,000 years, until the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. There is a natural rock scarp at this point on the slope, so that locating the wall here makes sense topographically. When the exiles returned from Babylonia, however, they built a new city wall, higher up on the slope, near the summit of the hill. This was used until the Romans destroyed the city in 70 A.D.

The Late Bronze II city (c. 1300–1200 B.C.) is of special interest because it was basically the Canaanite-Jebusite city that King David captured in about 1000 B.C., several hundred years after it was built. From this Canaanite-Jebusite city, Shiloh found the base of what must have been the famous Metsudat Zion, the Fortress of Zion. According to the Bible, “David captured the Fortress of Zion; it is now the City of David” (2 Samuel 5-7; 1 Chronicles 11-5).

The Fortress of Zion was built in about the 13th century B.C. on the acropolis of the ridge or spur that became the City of David. However, because the hill drops off sharply on the east, the Jebusites built a system of stone terraces that hugged the slope, thus forming a massive substructure for their citadel. The two main terraces, which faced east and south, rose to a height of over 30 feet, providing an impressive artificial podium on which to build the defensive fortress that David captured. This immense substructure added an area of more than 2,150 square feet to the top of the hill.

Although Shiloh found no building superstructures from the Canaanite-Jebusite period, he tantalizingly tells us that “The main structures of [the Jebusite citadel] should be preserved on the bedrock at the top of the slope.” Alas, this area is covered for the most part with Arab houses. “It is beyond the area which can be excavated at present.”

Only a few scattered remains were found of the Iron Age I city (1200–1000 B.C.), the final phase of the Jebusite city prior to its conquest by David. After David’s conquest of the city, a new citadel—what Shiloh calls the “Citadel of David”—was built on the site of the Jebusite citadel. The Israelite builders constructed a massive stepped stone structure that still covers the northern part of the Jebusite citadel substructure. This stepped stone structure has been preserved to a height of nearly 50 feet and is surely one of the most impressive surviving Iron Age monuments in Israel. According to Shiloh, the stepped structure probably “served as a sort of huge supporting wall for a superstructure rising at the top of the eastern slope” (p. 27).

The view of the city from the east must have been indeed impressive—the Citadel of David rising at the top of the eastern slope, towering above the lower hill of the City of David, the entire area surrounded by a thick fortification wall, already ancient, at the middle of the slope. To the north, added in King Solomon’s day, were the Temple of Yahweh and Solomon’s royal palace.

The area immediately north of the stepped stone structure was probably a royal-administrative area. Small ashlars or squared stone building blocks (found both by Shiloh and the previous excavator, Kathleen Kenyon) and a so-called proto-Aeolic or palmette capital (found in this area by Kenyon) are evidence for this identification. Ashlar masonry and this kind of capital are hallmarks of royal architecture at Israelite centers.

The royal Israelite city of Jerusalem was apparently divided at this time into three principal precincts. The first was the main royal area—the Temple and the palace precincts—in the north. The second was in the area of the citadel—above the stepped stone structure at the acropolis of the City of David—which served as a royal-administrative area (with perhaps some adjunct cultic functions). To the south was the lower city, the residential area of Jerusalem.

Shiloh argues that the area called the Ophel in the Bible probably refers to the central citadel area. The Ophel in Jerusalem is referred to frequently in the Bible (2 Chronicles 27-3, 33-14; Isaiah 32-14; Nehemiah 3-26–27, 11-21, etc.). Some have argued that it was a fortress north of the City of David and south of the Temple Mount. But Shiloh’s argument seems more persuasive.

Shiloh points out that ophelb is not used exclusively with respect to Jerusalem. The Bible tells us of an ophel in Samaria (2 Kings 5-24), and we know from the Moabite Stone that King Mesha of Moab built an ophel at Dibon. Shiloh argues that “ophel” is an urban architectural term denoting the outstanding site of the citadel or acropolis. Though the Jerusalem Ophel is mentioned in the Bible Text only from the days of King Jotham in the mid-eighth century B.C., Shiloh assumes that the urban plan of Jerusalem, including the Ophel, was fixed by the tenth century B.C. in King David’s or King Solomon’s time.

Among the finds from the period of the Israelite monarchy is a nude male figure with pointed beard and long hair that once decorated a cult stand. He appears to be carrying an animal on his shoulders. The animal’s legs dangle around his neck, and he holds the animal’s feet with his hands. We can only guess at the religious significance.

The next period of widespread building activity in Jerusalem appears to have occurred during the reign of Hezekiah in the late eighth century B.C., as described in the Bible (2 Chronicles 32-3–5, 30; Isaiah 22-9–11) and confirmed archaeologically. The earlier city wall was thickened, in places up to 16 feet, and was found preserved at some points to a height of ten feet. South of the stepped stone structure, the residential quarter was rebuilt. Swelled by an influx of refugees from the northern kingdom of Israel, which had been conquered by the Assyrians in 721 B.C., Jerusalem expanded on all sides. In addition to the rebuilt residential quarter on the south, the city expanded to the west across the valley onto the adjacent hill today known as Mt. Zion. To the north, the city expanded into the area west of the Temple Mount, into today’s Jewish Quarter of the Old City. Even on the eastern slope of the City of David, poor, simple dwellings were built on the terraces down the slope from the city wall. These simple homes were apparently abandoned after Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem in 701 B.C.

The diverse religious character of the city in the time of Hezekiah is perhaps reflected in the finds from a fill of this period which included 58 ceramic fertility and anthropomorphic figurines.

Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem was unsuccessful, but it was nevertheless traumatic. During the second half of the seventh century, the city planners apparently felt it was no longer necessary to maintain the stepped stone structure and the area around it for the purpose they had served until then. Two new stone terraces were built on the slope below the stepped stone structure. New buildings of good finish were constructed on these terraces. They probably served as public or official buildings. We know this from the finds, preserved in part, from the terrible destruction that occurred all over the city in the Babylonian destruction of 586 B.C. As Shiloh observes-

“The evidence [of the Babylonian destruction] in the Bible (2 Kings 25-8–10; Jeremiah 39-1–8; 2 Chronicles 36-18–19) is complemented by the clear-cut archaeological evidence; the total destruction of the various structures, and a conflagration which consumed the various wooden parts of the houses.”

Three seventh-century B.C. structures on two new terraces below the stepped stone structure are of special interest—two from the upper terrace and one from the lower terrace. On the upper terrace were the structures designated Ahiel’s House and the Burnt Room. Ahiel’s House is so named because an inscription bearing this name was found inside it. In one of the rooms of the structure, 37 two- and four-handled storage jars were uncovered, most bearing on their handles rosette impressions, typical of the period. One small room about four and a half feet square and with a thick plaster floor apparently served as the toilet. A stone installation that looks remarkably like a modern toilet seat was found above a “cesspit” eight feet below the floor. Two other similar “toilet seats,” or parts of seats were found elsewhere in the excavation.

Another building on the upper terrace contained the Burnt Room, so named because of the large quantity of the remains of burnt wood found in it. The carbonized remains of the wooden ceiling beams were found in situ, dramatic evidence of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem. The walls of the structure were preserved in places to the second story, but the floor had caved in. During the process of destruction, most of the walls of the upper stories collapsed, filling up the space of the lower floors. Numerous lumps of carbonized wood that originally belonged to wooden furniture and decorations on furniture were also excavated. Pieces of bone and ivory were also found.

Laboratory examination has revealed that one piece of wood nearly 20 feet long had been carved with motifs—including the palmette motif—typical of ornamental ivories from this period.

The wood was of two species. One, Pistacia atlantica, is a local tree widely distributed in Israel. The other species, boxwood, does not grow in Israel, however. The finely worked furniture decorations were made of boxwood and apparently were imported from northern Syria or southern Anatolia.
On the lower terrace was the House of the Bullae, so named because 51 bullae were uncovered inside. Bullae (singular, bulla) are lumps of clay used to seal a document bound with string. The lump of clay is impressed with a seal. The conflagration caused by the Babylonian destruction baked the clay, thus hardening the bullae and preserving them in excellent condition. The papyrus documents they once sealed have not survived, but on the backs of the bullae the excavators frequently found the impression of the papyrus and the strings they were tied with. Of the 51 bullae, 41 contain legible inscriptions. Four uninscribed seals depict a bird, a weight balance and perhaps an altar. The inscriptions follow the common formula of the period, “Belonging to X son of Y.” In all, there are 82 legible names, of which 38 appear only once. Most of the names are known from the Bible or other surviving ancient sources. A high percentage end in -yahu, a theophoric suffix designating the Israelite God Yahweh—for example, Ahiyahu (my brother is God); Benayahu (son of God), etc.

One of the bullae is especially important because it mentions a person actually referred to in the Bible- “Gemaryahu son of Shaphan.” Gemaryahu son of Shaphan was a scribe active at the court of King Jehoiakim of Judah, who reigned from 608 to 591 B.C. The scribe Gemaryahu son of Shaphan is mentioned several times in the Book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 36-10–12, 25). Shiloh, obviously thrilled with this find, suppresses his enthusiasm by couching his conclusions with the utmost scholarly reserve-

“With all caution due in such instances, we assume that the identity proposed here—between the name on the bulla and that of the Biblical personage—is very probable.”

That the names on the bullae do not overly repeat themselves, as would be expected in a private or family archive, indicates that this find may represent a public archive located in some bureau close to the City of David administrative center. This conclusion is further supported by the appearance of the name of Gemaryahu son of Shaphan, a known official at the royal court.

Also found in the House of the Bullae were four limestone stands, each about eight inches high, perhaps used for burning incense in a cultic ceremony.

Throughout the area, but mainly in the House of the Bullae and in the Burnt Room, were found scores of iron and bronze arrowheads, vividly reflecting the war atmosphere that characterized the city on the eve of the Babylonian destruction. In addition, the excavators found iron implements such as masons’ hammers and adzes, stoneware and stone weights of all the known multiples of the shekel.

The evidence of the Babylonian destruction in 586 B.C. was, as the excavator notes, “quite clear everywhere.” It was nearly total. After the destruction, when supporting walls were no longer maintained, the structures themselves collapsed. As Shiloh observes, “The larger the building the more impressive the debris.”

The condition in which the city was left over a century after the Babylonian destruction is dramatically described in the narrative of Nehemiah’s night walk around the remains of the city, in the fifth century B.C. (Nehemiah 2-13–15).

Instead of rebuilding the defense wall on the middle of the eastern slope, Nehemiah built on bedrock higher up, on top of the slope, establishing a new, more circumscribed limit to the city, more than adequate, however, for the reduced population that lived here after the return of the exiles. From this so-called Persian period (sixth to fourth centuries B.C.), the excavators found numerous yhd (yehud) seal impressions, the name by which Judah was known when it was a Persian satrapy.
In the Hellenistic period, certainly during the fourth–third centuries B.C., the City of David, with the Temple Mount at its head, continued to constitute the most important part of the city. Jerusalem served as the capital of the independent Hasmonean kingdom established after the successful Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid overlord Antiochus IV. At that time, the center of the city gradually shifted, however, to the west, to the hill known today as Mt. Zion. The City of David area then became known as the “Lower City.”

Shiloh provides us with a series of maps showing Jerusalem’s boundaries at various periods, very similar to the maps provided in these pages nearly seven years ago by Magen Broshi, curator of Jerusalem’s Shrine of the Book.c Shiloh’s maps, however, show Jerusalem from Hezekiah’s time to the Babylonian destruction (eighth to sixth centuries B.C.) as including the entire western hill (Mt. Zion), not just the eastern half of that hill that Broshi includes.

We cannot conclude without describing the three intriguing water systems that served the City of David. All begin at the Gihon Spring near the valley floor, on the eastern slope of the city, outside the defense walls. The earliest of these water systems is known as Warren’s Shaft, named for the 19th-century British engineer Charles Warren who first explored it. In this system, the water was led from the spring to an underground pool about 70 feet from the spring. Above the pool was a vertical shaft 80 feet high, down which a bucket on a rope could be lowered to bring up the water. The top of the shaft could be reached underground through an entrance chamber that led to a stepped tunnel that in turn led to a horizontal tunnel that led to the shaft.

The second water system, known as the Siloam Channel, also starts at the Gihon Spring. It leads the spring water south along the valley floor, through a channel that was partly rock-hewn and stone-covered and partly a rock-hewn tunnel. The Siloam Channel extended for a length of about 1,300 feet. This channel served several purposes. First, it carried the waters of the Gihon Spring to reservoirs at the southern end of the City of David. Reservoirs were especially important to collect the Gihon Spring waters, because, unlike water sources at other sites in Israel, the Gihon Spring does not flow constantly, nor is it below a water table. In order to capture the intermittent flow, the result of a relatively unique hydrological condition that creates a kind of siphon, it is necessary to provide for reservoirs. The Siloam Channel also provided irrigation water for the fields in the Kidron Valley. In the eastern wall of the Siloam Channel, facing the valley, window-like apertures were built that could be blocked or opened to provide a flow to the agricultural plots in the valley. Finally, openings in the higher (western) wall of the Siloam Channel allowed the capture of runoff water as it flowed down the slope. The major disadvantage of this system was its vulnerability, since its entire course lay outside the fortified area of the city. Thus, it was necessarily a peace-time system.

The third water system was the famous Hezekiah’s Tunnel. In anticipation of the attack on, and siege of, Jerusalem by Sennacherib in 701 B.C. as recorded in the Bible, King Hezekiah brought the waters of the Gihon Spring inside the city (2 Kings 20-20 and 2 Chronicles 32) by a circuitous 1,750-foot tunnel that led under the city to the Pool of Siloam on the western side of the ridge and to other reservoirs at the southern end of the city.

There is general agreement about the relative chronology of the construction of these three water systems- Warren’s Shaft was the earliest, the Siloam Channel next and Hezekiah’s Tunnel last. Moreover, the date of Hezekiah’s Tunnel can be fixed absolutely to the very end of the eighth century, about 701 B.C. Shiloh dates Warren’s Shaft and the Siloam Channel to the tenth to ninth centuries B.C.

Shortly after Warren’s Shaft was discovered, several scholars identified it with the tsinnor mentioned in the Bible in connection with David’s conquest of Jerusalem. The Biblical account of King David’s capture of Jerusalem appears both in 2 Samuel and in 1 Chronicles. The two passages are short enough to quote in full. This translation is from the Revised Standard Version-

“And the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, ‘You will not come in here, but the blind and the lame will ward you off’—thinking, ‘David cannot come in here.’ Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the City of David. And David said on that day, ‘Whoever would smite the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft [tsinnor] to attack the lame and the blind, who are hated by David’s soul.’ … And David dwelt in the stronghold and called it the City of David” (2 Samuel 5-6–9).

“And David and all Israel went to Jerusalem, that is Jebus, where the Jebusites were, the inhabitants of the land. The inhabitants of Jebus said to David, ‘You will not come in here.’ Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the City of David. David said, ‘Whoever shall smite the Jebusites first shall be chief and commander.’ And Joab the son of Zeruiah went up first, so he became chief. And David dwelt in the stronghold; therefore it was called the City of David” (1 Chronicles 11-4–7).

According to one theory, the tsinnor is Warren’s Shaft. Joab was able to climb it, thereby gaining access to the fortified city; this led to its capture, and Joab was made David’s general.

The identification of Warren’s Shaft with the tsinnor has been rejected, largely on philological grounds, by William F. Albright, Yigael Yadin, Benjamin Mazar and Yohanan Aharoni. Shiloh also rejects it, but on grounds of the shaft’s date, rather than philological grounds. Warren’s Shaft was not constructed until the tenth century B.C. at the earliest, says Shiloh, so it could not have played a part in David’s conquest of Jerusalem in about 1000 B.C. However, Shiloh does not expand on why he believes Warren’s Shaft could not be earlier than the tenth century, although he does cite an article of his in press.3 I expect Shiloh’s conclusion as to the date of Warren’s Shaft will be based on typological reasoning—by comparing Warren’s Shaft to other water systems in Israel—which also cannot be dated exactly. More important than the difficulty in dating these other water systems precisely is the fact that Jerusalem’s water system differs from them. Its water source is based on an intermittently gushing spring that may have had early mystical significance for this reason, in contrast to perennially flowing springs or a steady source of water in a water table. Moreover, as Shiloh’s own hydro-geological studies have shown, much of the water system we call Warren’s Shaft is natural. For example, the vertical shaft itself is a natural karsticd cleft that in fact extends nearly ten feet below the level of the spring. Shiloh also found that the lower part of the horizontal tunnel of Warren’s Shaft was a natural tunnel. These natural elements, says Shiloh, seem to explain “the anomaly and irregularity of the plan and dimensions of some of these components, in comparison with other water systems.” As this indicates, and as Shiloh’s data show, the plan of Warren’s Shaft is different from all other systems in the Land of Israel. Doesn’t all this suggest that Warren’s Shaft could easily be earlier than the others, especially since there were earlier water systems of this type elsewhere in the ancient world? After all, the Jebusites had a good part of their system ready-made. And they had a special need to conserve the intermittent flow of what must have seemed a very temperamental spring. Moreover, Shiloh recognizes that his proposed dating of Warren’s Shaft can be no more precise than “tenth–ninth century B.C.” David captured Jerusalem in about 993 B.C., at the beginning of the tenth century. In short, it does not seem to me we can so easily exclude the possibility that Warren’s Shaft might, in fact, be a Jebusite shaft.

In support of his argument that this shaft cannot be the Biblical tsinnor, Shiloh calls our attention to the fact that, in contrast to the account of Jerusalem’s capture in 2 Samuel 5, the description in 1 Chronicles 11 makes no mention of the tsinnor. Shiloh concludes from this that “already in antiquity the difficulty of substantiating this [i.e., the tsinnor as an element in the capture of Jerusalem] was felt.” It seems to me, the argument should be in precisely the opposite direction. The implication from the omission that Shiloh calls to our attention is that the author of Samuel unlike the author of Chronicles, did regard the tsinnor as critical to David’s capture of Jerusalem. It stretches credulity too far to suppose that the author of Chronicles eliminated the reference to tsinnor because he knew that what we call Warren’s Shaft was not used before David’s capture of the city.

Just what tsinnor means philologically is not entirely clear. Even those eminent scholars who argue that it does not refer to a water shaft recognize the difficulties of interpretation. It is interesting that in the second century A.D., long before anyone knew of the existence of Warren’s Shaft, Aquila, the famous Greek translator of the Bible, translated tsinnor as “watercourse” and the King James version of 1611 translates it “gutter.” These translations were hardly motivated by a desire to authenticate Warren’s Shaft as Jebusite. Moreover, even those scholars who argue that tsinnor does not refer to a water shaft, disagree as to precisely what it does mean. Some suggest something like grappling hooks—used to climb up walls. Others suggest it refers to a drum, which, as at Jericho, might have been used as a psychological weapon. One respected scholar has argued that it means penis—the man who was to be named David’s commander in chief would be required to maim the Jebusites in that vital organ, suggesting a kind of poetic justice in response to the Jebusites’ taunt that the blind and lame could defend the city.

In this uncertain state of our knowledge, it seems to me premature to reject the possibility that the tsinnor may well be Warren’s Shaft, through which Joab climbed to get inside Jebusite Jerusalem, thus enabling David to conquer it. Although Shiloh rejects this Biblical reference to a Jebusite water system, he accepts another such reference to the Siloam Channel which carries the waters of the Gihon Spring south along the valley floor to irrigate the fields of the Kidron Valley. The prophet Isaiah relays God’s judgment that because the people have “spurned the slowly flowing waters of Siloam, … the mighty, massive waters of the Euphrates, the king of Assyria and his multitude shall rise above all its channels and flow over all its beds and swirl through Judah like a flash flood” (Isaiah 8-6–8). The prophet’s reference to the “slowly flowing waters of Siloam” is generally considered to refer to the Siloam Channel.

The aficionado of Jerusalem archaeology will find much that is fascinating in this slim volume, although it is unlikely that every question will be answered. But this is only the beginning of the discussion, not the end.

a. QEDEM 19 (1984) Excavations at the City of David I by Yigal Shiloh. This book may be ordered from BAS Bookstore.

b. The Hebrew word “ophel” is translated as “hill” (Revised Standard Version) and “citadel” (King James and New Jewish Publication Society versions).

c. “Estimating the Population of Ancient Jerusalem,” BAR 04-02.

1. “Kathleen Kenyon 1906–1978,” BAR 04-04.

2. Kathleen Kenyon, Digging Up Jerusalem, (London, 1974), p. 9.

3. “Underground Water Systems in the Iron Age in Israel,” to be published in Archaeology and Biblical Interpretation, Glenn Rose Memorial Volume.

See also-

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