Archaeologists working on Mount Zion may have just confirmed the biblical destruction of the first city of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in the year 586 B.C.E. with the discovery of a rare jewel and arrowheads in a burnt layer of sediment.
UNC Charlotte professors Shimon Gibson and James Tabor and Dr. Rafi Lewis, a senior lecturer at Ashkelon Academic College, have been working on the site for the last two years and have made several finds to confirm historical events and biblical accounts.
For instance, just by finding a site on Mount Zion the team confirmed that old Jerusalem had existed there and had been destroyed. By piecing more clues together, they were able to date some of the destruction back to the First Crusade, thus confirming an early account of a battle that took place on the slopes in 1099 in which European forces captured the city after a long siege.
And now the same team has made an even older and more important find that could confirm the biblical account of the destruction of the first city of Jerusalem, which is recorded in the Book of Daniel and again in Kings.
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god.
Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city and the First Temple out of anger because King Zedekiah refused to pay tribute to him.
So the city was besieged unto the eleventh year of king Zedekiah. On the ninth day of the [fourth] month the famine was sore in the city, so that there was no bread for the people of the land. Then a breach was made in the city, and all the men of war [fled] by night by the way of the gate between the two walls … And he burnt the house of the Lord, and the King’s house; and all the houses of Jerusalem, even every great man’s house, burnt he with fire.
~2 Kings 25:1-9
The Bible describes the first city of Jerusalem as full of riches, something that has never been confirmed. In fact, scholars think the city was no more than a mere village. But Shimon and his colleagues found evidence otherwise, including a piece of jewelry embedded in the burnt layer dating back to 586 B.C.E.
“For archaeologists, an ashen layer can mean a number of different things,” Gibson told Inside UNC Charlotte. “It could be ashy deposits removed from ovens; or it could be localized burning of garbage. However, in this case, the combination of an ashy layer full of artifacts, mixed with arrowheads, and a very special ornament indicates some kind of devastation and destruction. Nobody abandons golden jewelry and nobody has arrowheads in their domestic refuse. It’s the kind of jumble that you would expect to find in a ruined household following a raid or battle. Household objects, lamps, broken bits from pottery which had been overturned and shattered… and arrowheads and a piece of jewelry which might have been lost and buried in the destruction.”
Indeed, people who are fleeing for their lives would have left jewelry behind for attackers to loot, or they would have been killed and the items stolen. In this case, the piece of jewelry appears to have a violent past.
“It went through trauma itself, was smashed somehow,” Lewis told Haaretz. “The little silver cluster of grapes is almost detached from its golden case, as if the jewel had been violently torn from somebody. You can almost sense the violence on the artifact itself. Frankly, jewelry is a rare find at conflict sites, because this is exactly the sort of thing that attackers will loot and later melt down.”
In addition to help confirm a conflagration and great destruction on Mount Zion at the correct time, the jewel could also confirm that Jerusalem at this time was a city of riches.
“No evidence of this kind of richness of material culture has ever been found inside the walls of Jerusalem before,” Lewis says.
“The biblical books of Kings and Daniel dwell on the wealth of Jerusalem that Nebuchadnezzar took back to Babylon, and describe feasting using the gold vessels and copper vessels which came from the city. This small artifact shows the potential of how rich Jerusalem really was.”
Regardless, it still must have belonged to someone of wealth.
“But it definitely belonged to somebody aristocratic,” Lewis said. “It’s not something a peasant would have lost or left behind.”
The team also found arrowheads used by the Babylonian army of Nebuchadnezzar in the ruins of homes and buildings they excavated.
“The arrowheads are known as ‘Scythian arrowheads’ and have been found at other archaeological conflict sites from the 7th and 6th centuries B.C,E.,” Gibson said. “They are known at sites outside of Israel as well. They were fairly commonplace in this period and are known to be used by the Babylonian warriors. Together, this evidence points to the historical conquest of the city by Babylon because the only major destruction we have in Jerusalem for this period is the conquest of 587/586 B.C.E.”
And Gibson is confident they are in the city on Mount Zion mentioned by the Bible.
“I like to think that we are excavating inside one of the ‘Great Man’s houses’ mentioned in the second book of Kings 25:9,” Gibson said. “This spot would have been at an ideal location, situated as it is close to the western summit of the city with a good view overlooking Solomon’s Temple and Mount Moriah to the northeast. We have high expectations of finding much more of the Iron Age city in future seasons of work. “
“We know where the ancient fortification line ran,” he continued. “So we know we are within the city. We know that this is not some dumping area, but the southwestern neighborhood of the Iron Age city – during the 8th century B.C.E. the urban area extended from the ‘City of David’ area to the southeast and as far as the Western Hill where we are digging.”
“Usually archaeologists deal with periods,” Lewis added. “Here we captured a moment in time, an event in an exact year, with everything that comes with destruction.”
The rate at which this team is making discoveries, we can expect to learn a whole lot more about early Jerusalem in years to come.
More about the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem from The Jerusalem Watch below:
Featured Image: UNC Charlotte