Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Gold Coins from 1st Century Found at Ramat Rahel

Haaretz is reporting on the discovery of a hoard of coins at a site three miles south of ancient Jerusalem.

A few days ago, archaeologists made a most surprising find at the bottom of such a columbarium, at a site at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel near Jerusalem - a hoard of coins from the time of the destruction of the Second Temple (70 C.E.).

Late in July, archaeologists from Tel Aviv University identified, beneath the floor of the columbarium, a ceramic cooking pot from the 1st century C.E. that held 15 large gold coins. "It's very special to find a hoard like this, and it's very exciting," related the director of the excavations at the site, Dr. Oded Lipschits, of TAU. "We discovered the hoard with a metal detector, and then we went down into the niche and found this small cooking pot inside it."

What was a pot holding coins doing at the bottom of a cave used for raising pigeons? According to Lipschits, the pot was covered up in a way that indicates that it had been concealed in a hurry. "We know that coins like these were brought to the Temple," he says. "Possibly after the Temple was destroyed there was no place to bring the coins, and since the columbarium was no longer in use, they buried the coins here. This arouses sad thoughts as we approach Tisha B'Av," he added, referring to the Hebrew date (the ninth of Av) that traditionally marks the destruction of both the First and Second Temples.

For photos, see the Hebrew version of the article. (HT: Joe Lauer).

Unrelated to the coin discovery is discussion of the function of the building that has previously been identified as a palace of the Judean kings (something akin to Camp David in the U.S.). 

Lipschits says that one of the aims of the current dig is to clarify the purpose of this structure. "The accepted claim is that it is a palace of the kings of Judea, but I'm dubious of that. The palace lacks any Judean characteristics, and there is no reason that a royal palace would have been built here, when the City of David is not far away."

Lipschits believes that the palace was built during the period of the Assyrian subjugation. "This entire complex is, in my opinion, an administrative center for the occupying regime, a place where agricultural produce was collected, for delivery as a tax to the Assyrians."

During the period of the return to Zion (beginning 539 B.C.E.), the Assyrian regime was replaced by a Persian one, but the administrative center continued to operate. Many seal impressions from this period have been found, bearing the name "Pahwat Yahud," the name of the country under this regime. The Ramat Rachel excavation is is the main accumulation in the country of impressions of this sort, and Lipschits sees this as further proof that the site was an administrative center.

There's some confusion about this elsewhere, but I think the journalist has it correct.  What Lipschits is suggesting, contrary to his predecessors (Aharoni, Yadin, and Barkay) is that the palace was an Assyrian center, following the time of the Assyrian subjugation of Judah under Hezekiah.  While most would agree that Assyria maintained some sort of control over Judah for about 50 years after Sennacherib's failed attempt to conquer Jerusalem, Lipschits goes farther in claiming that Ramat Rahel was an on-site command post for Assyria.  Here's a brief summary of archaeologists' conclusions about this important and beautiful building:

  • Yohanan Aharoni: Palace of Judean king Jehoiakim (cf. Jeremiah 22); ca. 600 B.C.
  • Yigael Yadin (never missing an opportunity to disagree with YA):  Palace of Judean queen Athaliah; ca. 840 B.C.
  • Gabriel Barkay: Palace of Judean king Hezekiah; ca. 700 B.C. (possibly built, destroyed, and rebuilt during his reign)
  • Nadav Na'aman and Oded Lipschits: Assyrian headquarters in Judah; ca. 700 B.C.

If you're interested in more, you can start with the article by Barkay in Biblical Archaeology Review, Sept/Oct 2006, pp. 34-44.

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