Damascus Gate

Three major excavations fail to explain controversial remains

An east-west city wall built by Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century cuts a jagged, horizontal line across the bottom of this photo; from our vantage point in the north, we look south beyond this wall to the Old City, the golden-domed Mosque of Omar and the undulating Judean Hills on the horizon.

Beneath Suleiman’s east-west wall, at Damascus Gate, archaeologists have discovered a beautifully dressed Herodian wall—a contender for the city’s “Third Wall,” described by the first-century A.D. historian Flavius Josephus.

But about 500 yards north of Suleiman’s wall, just below the structures at the bottom of this photo, archaeologists have excavated another wall, called the Sukenik-Mayer wall, after its earliest excavators. Some scholars say that this 800-yard-long line of masonry is Josephus’s Third Wall, built by Agrippa I to enclose a first-century A.D. Jerusalem suburb. But other scholars disagree. The late Kathleen Kenyon argued that the Roman general Titus built the Sukenik-Mayer wall in the first century A.D. to trap the city’s Jewish defenders. E. W. Hamrick counters that the wall was built by the Jewish defenders just before Titus’s victory in 70 A.D. Others have proposed that Bar Kokhba’s warriors built the Sukenik-Mayer wall in 132–135 A.D. to thwart the Roman army in the second great Jewish revolt against Rome.

Read the rest of The Jerusalem Wall That Shouldn’t Be There in the online Biblical Archaeology Society Library.