Friday, November 09, 2007

Excavator Claims Nehemiah's Wall Found in Jerusalem

A few weeks ago I reported on a discovery of Persian period material in the City of David. In a presentation at an archaeological conference in Israel yesterday, Eilat Mazar gave more details about the discovery. The mainstream press hasn't yet picked up the story, but it is reported on the web at (HT: Joe Lauer). A few excerpts in italics, with my commentary:

Yesterday, at an archaeological conference at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv, Dr. Eilat Mazar told 500 attendees that she had discovered Nehemiah’s wall.

This conference was the 13th Annual Conference of the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies on "New Studies on Jerusalem." One of the lectures scheduled later that day was by Israel Finkelstein: Jerusalem in the Persian Period and the Wall of Nehemiah. No report of that talk is given in this article.

Adjacent to the palace wall stood a large stone tower archaeologists believed to be built during the Hasmonean dynasty (142-37 b.c.). Early last summer, a section of that tower, which was built on a steep slope just outside the palace, began to give way, indicating it was on the verge of collapse. And so what started as a simple task of repairing a collapsing tower turned into a six-week dig—and a fascinating new discovery.

There are two towers that could fit this description. My guess is it is the northernmost of the two, because

1) the excavation had been working in close proximity to this for the last couple of years, including workers standing on top of it for debris removal and

2) previous excavators had suggested that the base of this tower was originally built in the Persian period. I've taught for years that if there's any evidence in Jerusalem that has been found of Nehemiah's wall, it's here. What's new, then, is the additional evidence to support this contention.

City of David Area G from southeast, tb091306302labeled

“Under the tower,” Dr. Mazar said at the conference, “we found the bones of two large dogs—and under those bones a rich assemblage of pottery and finds from the Persian period [6th to 5th centuries b.c.]. No later finds from that period were found under the tower.” The pottery is what clearly dates the time period for the tower’s construction. Had the tower been built during the 2nd or 1st century b.c., Dr. Mazar explained, 6th-century pottery underneath the wall would leave a chronological gap of several hundred years. Therefore we know, based on the pottery dating, that the tower would have been built three to four centuries earlier than previously thought, during the Persian Empire’s heyday, which is precisely when the Bible says Nehemiah rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem.

According to biblical chronology, Nehemiah returned to build the walls of Jerusalem in about 445 B.C., which is the middle of the 5th century. Thus the dating of this wall would correspond with the biblical record of Nehemiah's wall. Furthermore, it is logical that that the Hasmoneans built their wall (the "First Wall") above the remains of Nehemiah's wall. The dog burials are interesting because 800 of such were found in a Persian period level at Ashkelon. The article does not mention the seal impression (bulla) with "a beautiful 5th century B.C. inscription" mentioned here previously.

Many of the landmarks described in Nehemiah’s book can now be clearly identified today thanks in large part to the work of Eilat Mazar.

False on two counts. Most of the landmarks of Nehemiah's book are not identifiable today (for understandable reasons). And Mazar has excavated very little from the Persian period. Mazar would not make this claim for herself.

For the rest of the morning, Dr. Mazar’s colleagues spoke one after another, each of them picking apart her findings, some even rejecting her conclusions. But the entire morning session of perhaps the most important archaeological conference of the year in Israel was devoted to Eilat Mazar’s work—not her theories, her work.

This is what makes the archaeological discipline so much better than it was 100 years ago, when one archaeologist could make a claim and that was the end of the matter.

And that’s just the way she likes it. As she has said before, in the end, the stones will speak for themselves.

Rubbish. Stones do not speak for themselves. Archaeology is large part interpretation, which makes it as much of an art as a science.

UPDATE (11/12): Yitzhak Sapir was at the conference and would have written an entirely different article.

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  • The italicized argument for a Persian period date is not very clear or persuasiveh. The evidence of Persian period pottery underneath the tower makes any date after the 5th century possible and so doesn't preclude a Hasmonean date without a corresponding level above to delimit the relative chronological range. There are gaps all over Jerusalem between 7th and 6th century and the 2nd century so a gap is not a persuasive argument in itself.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Nov 09, 12:37:00 PM  

  • So Mazar found evidence of walls built in Nehemiah's time, that's cool. Isn't Mazar looking for the Palace of David? Do you think she will find the palace in that location? Has the archaeological excavation material been published yet in the area we got to dig in?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Nov 09, 01:25:00 PM  

  • Shireen - it takes years for excavations to be published. Whether or not she is excavating the palace of David is a big question that requires more evidence than has been made public thus far.

    By Blogger Todd Bolen, at Fri Nov 09, 01:35:00 PM  

  • Todd, exactly where did you take the picture you posted from?

    By Blogger Al Sandalow, at Fri Nov 09, 03:14:00 PM  

  • Al - out to get my trade secrets, eh?

    I took it from the roof of the convent on the "Hill of Offense" above Silwan. Unfortunately the site is not open to the public.

    By Blogger Todd Bolen, at Fri Nov 09, 06:46:00 PM  

  • So...Did you have to dress up like a nun and sneek in?

    By Blogger Al Sandalow, at Sat Nov 10, 12:35:00 AM  

  • I was with a friend who was invited. It's a fantastic view of the city.

    By Blogger Todd Bolen, at Sat Nov 10, 05:38:00 AM  

  • Todd you and your readers should take a look at Joe Zias' comments on the subject.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 10, 09:35:00 AM  

  • >I was with a friend who was invited.

    That's too bad. I was all over the idea of you in a nun's habit, sneeking in with your hidden camera.

    By Blogger Al Sandalow, at Sun Nov 11, 08:10:00 AM  

  • here is a oficial anouncment of the discovery from the biu (hebrew)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Nov 11, 09:45:00 AM  

  • Just a side question: What is the significance of the remains of dogs at these sites?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Nov 11, 03:37:00 PM  

  • The photo of the site is exceptional. Thank you for posting it.

    Hadasah B

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Nov 12, 12:16:00 AM  

  • See also my comments at Jim West's blog -

    By Blogger Yitzhak Sapir, at Mon Nov 12, 02:34:00 AM  

  • Udiyah - because dog burials are typically found in Persian period levels at other sites, it is suggestive that this is the time period of the remains here also.

    By Blogger Todd Bolen, at Wed Nov 14, 07:48:00 AM  

  • What significance do dogs have in the Persian period? :D
    Are they simply more than man's best friend or were they worshiped?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 14, 10:53:00 AM  

  • Shireen - that's a good question. Generally the assumption is that there was some cultic connection, but there is much that is not known. The helpful and reliable PACE website says this:

    Stager identifies four Persian period strata at the southern end of the tell, including a cemetery with over 800 dog burials—the largest dog cemetery known from antiquity—all apparently hunting dogs. It was first established in the early fifth century and used until the late fourth century BCE. The dogs, buried in shallow graves, all had died a natural death; they were not put to death. While full understanding of these burials has not yet been reached, they seem to have been connected with Phoenician cultic practice (Stager 1991a; Heltzer 1998).


    By Blogger Todd Bolen, at Thu Nov 15, 07:08:00 AM  

  • I don't think it's unfair to say the stones will speak for themselves.

    Joshua 24:27

    By Blogger christina gavin, at Mon Jul 21, 09:47:00 AM  

  • Can I ask you a question?
    I have just returned from Jerusalem where I made another visit to the City of David excavations.
    I was looking for Nehemiah’s wall about which there had been much publicity. I don’t know if I saw it.
    The wall adjacent to the “palace” dig between the 2 towers, surely is too far up the hill as Nehemiah would have built the wall at the level of the Gihon Spring.
    Or is it possibly the wall containing large chunks directly above the entrance to Hezekiah’s Tunnel?

    By Blogger raybeattie, at Tue Oct 27, 05:59:00 AM  

  • Can I ask you a question?
    I have just returned from Jerusalem where I made another visit to the City of David excavations.
    I was looking for Nehemiah’s wall about which there had been much publicity. I don’t know if I saw it.
    The wall adjacent to the “palace” dig surely is too far up the hill as Nehemiah would have built the wall at the level of the Gihon Spring.
    Or is it possibly the wall containing large chunks directly above the entrance to Hezekiah’s Tunnel?

    By Blogger raybeattie, at Tue Oct 27, 06:02:00 AM  

  • Ray - the wall is near/under the "northern Hasmonean tower" as in the photo. Yes, it is very high on the slope, but that's where evidence indicates that it was built. The Babylonian destruction left a lot of rubble on the steep eastern slope and so he built the wall near the top of the slope. The Hasmoneans built the "First Wall" on top of it.

    By Blogger Todd Bolen, at Tue Oct 27, 07:11:00 PM  

  • Todd Bolen. This guy is trying to find the wall that Nehemiah built, because he is going to try and find king David, Solomon's tombs. I have been doing research on it and the questions he is asking would be what I ask.

    By Blogger Unknown, at Sun Feb 04, 07:08:00 AM  

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