Archaeology Backs the Bible

In 2008 building remains from the first Temple period (eighth and ninth centuries B C.) were discovered in the northwest part of the Western Wall plaza that runs adjacent to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. My team worked on this excavation at its conclusion in 2010 and helped uncover a large section of the colonnaded Eastern Cardo of Jerusalem that was laid by Roman Emperor Hadrian in the middle of the second century A.D. The Cardo’s heavy limestone blocks were laid on top of a layer dating to the end of the first Temple period, and in one corner of the excavation where the paving stones had been removed were found remains of the first Temple, built by King Solomon.

On the floor were found inscribed seals and bullae indicating the structures were probably part of an administrative complex. One of the more interesting seals bore the inscription “[belonging] to Netanyahu ben Yaush.” The biblical name Netanyahu (also the family name of the current Israeli prime minister) appears several times in the biblical books of Jeremiah and Chronicles, and the name Yaush is found in the Lachish letters. It was in Lachish where God destroyed the Assyrian monarch Sennacherib who threatened to lay siege to Jerusalem (2 Ki. 19; 2 Chr. 32; Isa. 37). This was the first time evidence of structures from the first Temple period were uncovered so close to the Temple Mount.

Also of great significance was the discovery of the lid of a stone sarcophagus engraved with the Hebrew words Ben HaCohen HaGadol. In second-Temple-period literature the name belongs to the son of the high priest who served in the Temple.

Although the Islamic authorities do not permit archaeological excavations on the Temple Mount itself, the Islamic Waqf has inadvertently provided archaeologists with abundant data from this site. Beginning in 1996, Islamic authorities removed more than 20,000 tons of archaeologically rich debris from the southern and eastern portions of the Temple Mount in preparation for the construction of the al-Marwani mosque. They dumped this material into the Kidron Valley, but Israeli archaeologists Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Zweig recovered it.

They began the Temple Mount Sifting Project as a means of searching through this rubble and salvaging evidence of a Jewish presence on the Temple Mount. To date, tons of pottery have been salvaged, half of which dates back to the time of the first and second Temples.

Among the more than 4,000 coins found are the earliest Judean (Yehud) coin from the Persian period, coins of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175–163 B.C.) who desecrated the Temple (remember the Hanukkah story), and hundreds of common Jewish coins from the Hasmonean and second Temple periods.

Of special note was the discovery of silver and bronze shekel coins that Jews minted during the First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66–70) and that contained such inscriptions as “Holy Jerusalem,” and “For the Freedom of Zion.” These coins alone prove Jewish dominance on the Temple Mount during the late second Temple period. Scores of iron arrowheads were also found as evidence of the Jewish war against the Romans.

During my group’s work on the project, a murex shell was discovered—the very shell used by the Temple priests to dye parts of their priestly garments—as well as unique tiles (Opus Sectile) that created a wave pattern and came from one of the Temple courts and a clay bulla containing an Israelite name written in Egyptian hieroglyphics. Egyptians influenced Judean kings and officials throughout the first Temple period, beginning with Solomon who made an alliance with Pharaoh and had an Egyptian wife (1 Ki. 9:16; 11:1).

Still lying in rubble on the Temple Mount today are hundreds of columns, decorated building stones, and portions of other monumental structures that were part of the Temple complex but are under the control of Muslim authorities who continue to do construction and discard these priceless relics as irrelevant junk from an unimportant past.

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