Top Three Reports in Biblical Archaeology – October 2020

This past month three discoveries were announced in Israel that date back to the period of the First and Second Temples. Each sheds more light on the daily life of the Jewish people living in antiquity. Here were the top three reports in biblical archaeology from October 2020.

3. Cache of Intact, 2000-Year-Old Jars Unearthed            

Intact vessels dating to the Second Temple period were discovered at Khirbet Kafr Mer. Photo: COGAT Spokesperson’s Office

Archaeologists working at Khirbet Kafr Mer, near Beit El, discovered dozens of complete jars and other artifacts at the bottom of a cistern.  The vessels date to the Second-Temple period, and were used by residents in a Jewish village that occupied the area around the time of Jesus. The cistern had been repurposed at some point in antiquity and converted from a water basin into a storage basement for vessels.  Some of the vessels were found within plastered niches carved into the walls.  While many archaeological excavations in Israel were canceled, the dig at Khirbet Kafr Mer continued, where the discovery of intricately carved stone table at the site was announced in August.

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2. New Gate Discovered in Eastern Wall on the Temple Mount

The two red arrows show the two gates recently noticed by Dr. Eli David in the eastern wall of the Dome of the Rock plaza. Photo: (c) Leen Ritmeyer.

The tops of two blocked arches were recently noticed in the eastern wall of the Raised Platform on which the Nikanor Gate once stood during the Second-Temple period.  Dr. Eli David, who made the discovery, noted that neither of these arches are mentioned in Temple Mount research literature from the 19th century onward. Temple Mount expert, Dr. Leen Ritmeyer, notes that they seem to belong to a triple opening in the wall and has speculated that they were built during the crusader period, or even earlier.  He suggests that they may belong to a gate that led from the Court of the Women into the underground Music Room in which were stored the musical instruments that the Levites played. 

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1. First-Temple-Era Weight Discovered Near Western Wall

This ancient two-shekel weight dating to the First-Temple period was recently discovered in Jerusalem. Photo: Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority

A two-shekel weight dating to the First-Temple Period was recently discovered in material from excavations carried out beneath Wilson’s Arch near the Western Wall of the Temple Mount.  It was found in debris that was likely part of the fill used to backfill the foundations of the Temple Mount when Herod the Great expanded the Temple. While it was missed in the initial excavations, the artifact was discovered through the important secondary process of wet-sifting.  The round weight-stone is inscribed with an Egyptian symbol which resembles the Greek letter gamma, which represented the shekel, as well as two parallel lines, indicating that is was a double-weight.  Previous discoveries have demonstrated that the weight of a shekel was 11.5 grams, and this double shekel indeed weighs twice that amount (23 grams).  Given the use of the shekel in matters related to the temple, the location of this discovery is yet more evidence that the temple was located on the Temple Mount. It also indicates that there was likely a market near the Temple where people who had come to worship purchased sacrificial animals and other items.  Dr. Scott Stripling, Director of the excavations at Shiloh led by the Associates for Biblical Research (ABR) commented: “I applaud the IAA for wet sifting the soil before discarding it. Had this not occurred, this weight would have been discarded. Sadly, most small finds from archaeological excavations are discarded because of archaic methodology.”  ABR’s dig at Shiloh makes extensive use of wet-sifting and has demonstrated the importance of this technology in modern archaeological excavations. 

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