The destruction of the Temple by the Romans in a.d. 70 was a tremendous tragedy for the Jews, and for two millennia its loss has been deeply mourned. After centuries of foreign occupation, Israel became a nation again in 1948, then as a result of the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel again gained control of the holy city of Jerusalem.
While the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim shrine, now sits on the Temple Mount, religious Jews dream about the day they will rebuild their beloved Temple on the site where it once housed the very presence of God.
In today’s polarized world, it seems everything and anything having to do with the Temple Mount causes controversy. When Israel opened a tunnel alongside the compound in 1996, it sparked clashes that killed 80 people. In 2000, before being elected Israel’s Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount. His visit provoked riots among Israel’s Arab population and is seen as one of several key events that triggered the start of the second Intifada (Arab word for “uprising”).
Recent activity near the Temple Mount has once again sparked debate. On February 4th, renovations began on the ramp which leads from the paved area in front of the Western Wall to the Temple Mount’s Rambam (Mughrabi) Gate. The ramp is part of an earthen embankment and was damaged by an earthquake and the winter storms of 2004, and is currently in danger of collapse.
The Israeli Antiquities Authority is undertaking rescue excavations before implementing plans for constructing a new bridge to replace the old one. (Muslim clerics have also agreed that the ramp must be renovated because it is dangerous. They object, however, to Israel’s carrying out the renovations.) The ramp is not part of the Temple Mount and is located outside its boundaries.
This project has prompted immediate protests from Palestinians. Some 2,000 police officers were deployed to the Old City of Jerusalem to maintain order. Some Arab leaders have accused Israel of trying to provoke a conflict, falsely claiming that the construction work is an Israeli attempt to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque and “to make Jerusalem Jewish,” while others have threatened that if the work continues it could trigger a third Intifada.
Any archaeological discoveries that appear to substantiate the Biblical account of history undermine the Palestinian cause. This explains why Waqf (Islamic Trust) officials bulldoze sensitive archaeological sites on the Temple Mount with blatant disregard for the treasures buried there.
Digging Up the Truth
Israeli archaeologists and volunteers have sifted through the piles of ruins discarded by Waqf officials—rubble taken from the Temple Mount to a city garbage dump. Amidst the rubble they have uncovered numerous history-rich artifacts dating back to the First and Second Temple periods.
The oldest archaeological evidence of Jerusalem’s history dates back to the Early Bronze Age (circa 3000 b.c.). With very little exception, the Jewish People have had a continual presence in the city since King David made it his capital 3,000 years ago. This religious and historical connection has fueled the modern Jewish Zionist movement. Throughout the centuries, Jews have dreamed of returning to Jerusalem and have never ceased to mourn the destruction of the ancient city. Days of fasting, marking the destruction of the First and Second Temples, are an integral part of the Jewish calendar.
Such discoveries underscore Israel’s long and rich history in the Promised Land. It is a legacy that Israel’s enemies would like to erase. They claim that the idea of a historical Jewish homeland is a hoax—invented to justify Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Yet with each passing year, more new discoveries are made which corroborate Jewish claims to the Holy Land.
In 2005, while excavating in the ancient City of David, archaeologists uncovered various Byzantine-era artifacts, including a well-preserved room with mosaic floors. The floors were found about two meters below ground level and date back between the 4th and 6th century a.d. Beneath this room, water cisterns, pools and a purification bath from the Second Temple period were next uncovered. Below the pools, workers discovered the ruins of an immense 3,000-year-old stone structure.
Inside this building, archaeologists found pieces of pottery dating back to the 10th century b.c., to the days of David and Solomon. They also uncovered a bulla, or ancient government seal, belonging to Jehucal, son of Shelemiah, son of Shevi. This government official is mentioned twice in the book of Jeremiah. This discovery has sparked debate, because some archaeologists believe the ancient building could be the palace of King David as described by Samuel. According to the Biblical account, the structure was built by Hiram king of Tyre after David conquered Jerusalem.
In March 2006, archaeologists uncovered underground chambers and tunnels used during a Jewish revolt against the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago. They also found the remains of a Jewish city from the 10th and 9th centuries b.c.
Meanwhile, excavation continues on the Biblical Pool of Siloam, which was discovered by workers repairing a sewage pipe in the old city of Jerusalem. In the 8th century b.c., King Hezekiah built a 1,750-foot-long tunnel under the ridge where the City of David was located. Hezekiah’s tunnel was built in order to protect the water supply should the Assyrians lay siege to Jerusalem. The first Pool of Siloam was the reservoir holding the water brought into the city by the tunnel. It presumably was destroyed in 586 b.c. when the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar razed the city. The pool currently being excavated is believed to be the pool of Jesus’ time. It was built early in the first century b.c. and was destroyed by the Roman emperor Titus in about a.d. 70. The Gospel of John describes an incident in which Jesus cures a blind man at the Pool of Siloam.
Our faith in Jesus Christ and in the accuracy of the Scriptures is not dependent upon archaeological finds. However it is exciting to watch as these ancient treasures are uncovered, as they do attest to the authenticity of the Biblical record. To learn more about Biblical archaeology, check out our briefing, Digging Up the Truth.