Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Buried Treasure

So says Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

A section of an ancient city wall of Jerusalem from the tenth century B.C.E. - possibly built by King Solomon - has been revealed in archaeological excavations directed by Dr. Eilat Mazar and conducted under the auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Last month I posted on some circa-10th century BCE Hebrew poetry and there were some questions about whether or not pottery shards were any indication of the historical validity of the Davidic Dynasty.  My answer was “not really” since the conventional wisdom regarding Israel’s history is that “something was going on” back then.

For some time, scholars have argued that you don’t get stories about magnificent kingdoms without some actual historical precedent—but that was the extent of the argument.  There really wasn’t any physical evidence that had been uncovered in the dirt.  Now there is.

"The city wall that has been uncovered testifies to a ruling presence. Its strength and form of construction indicate a high level of engineering," Mazar said. The city wall is at the eastern end of the Ophel area in a high, strategic location atop the western slop of the Kidron valley. "A comparison of this latest finding with city walls and gates from the period of the First Temple, as well as pottery found at the site, enable us to postulate with a great degree of assurance that the wall that has been revealed is that which was built by King Solomon in Jerusalem in the latter part of the tenth century B.C.E.," said Mazar.

In ancient cities, a vassal state was typically not allowed a protective outer wall, unless said vassal was on close terms with the ruling authorities.  The uncovered wall, then, testifies very strongly to either an independent state or a favored vassal.  So which is it?  Does this wall give us any good idea?  No, but the pottery shards buried under it do:

"The jars that were found are the largest ever found in Jerusalem," said Mazar, adding that "the inscription found on one of them shows that it belonged to a government official, apparently the person responsible for overseeing the provision of baked goods to the royal court."  In addition to the pottery shards, cult figurines were also found in the area, as were seal impressions on jar handles with the word "to the king," testifying to their usage within the monarchy. Also found were seal impressions (bullae) with Hebrew names, indicating the royal nature of the structure.

This is a pretty big deal.  You have to realize that before this week, we had no evidence outside of the Hebrew scriptures for a strong, independent Jewish state before the 6th century BCE.  It would have been nice for the inscription to have read, “To King Solomon,” but hey, we’ll take what we can get right?

Pretty cool.