Tag Archives: Temple Mount

Israel Roundup

Israel Antiquities Authority Archives Digitized

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) is working on publishing a database of their archives, many of whose documents are suffering from disintegration because of poor paper quality and poor storage facilities in the past. The documents include 19th century letters on excavations at the City of David, plans for the restoration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre after the earthquake of 1927, and the extensive archives of the Rockefeller Museum. Most of the documents are in English (they will receive Hebrew annotation). http://iaa-archives.org.il/

Sifting Excavated Material from Temple Mount

I took clients, a father and 2 children, to the Temple Mount Sifting Project in Emek Tsurim, just below Mount Scopus and everyone really enjoyed it. For those not familiar with the project, it is under the direction of Prof. Gaby Barkai and since 2005 has been working on the massive amount of material (400 truck loads) that was removed from the Temple Mount illegally, after the unsupervised excavation of the entrance to the underground Marwani mosque, in the area of Solomon’s stables. The material was rescued from where it was dumped in the Kidron Valley. It is being steadily sorted and sifted by staff with the help of visitors. You start with an interesting presentation on the history of the Temple Mount, through the Israelite, Second Temple, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic and Crusader periods, followed by hands-on wet-sifting of buckets of raw material for artifacts which you sort into six categories: pottery, worked stone, metal, bone, glass and mosaic tesserae.

Excavations by Institute of Galilean Archaeology

An American-Israeli archeological team unearthed remains of the Jewish village of Sichin at the northern edge of the Tzippori National Park. The town was mentioned by Jewish historian, Josephus, as one of the first Jewish communities in the Galilee during the Second Temple period and later, in the time of the Talmud, as a village of Jewish potters near Tzippori. The excavations revealed the first evidence of the existence of a magnificent synagogue.

Dr. Mordehai Aviam from the Institute for Galilean Archeology, Kinneret College, said:

“It was a great surprise for us, the excavators, to discover seven stone molds for preparing decorated clay oil lamps. One of the lamp fragments manufactured at the site is decorated with a menorah (candelabra) with lulav (ceremonial palm fronds) next to it. According to the clay vessels finds, it seems that the settlement was abandoned in the fourth century CE, apparently after the earthquake which occurred in 363, or possibly as a result of the Gallus revolt which took place in 351, which was centered at Tzippori. The excavations will continue for the coming years, and will try to unearth the synagogue, manufacturing equipment and residential buildings.”

In other news, a joint Israeli-Japanese team uncovered, in the ruins of a Second Temple period Jewish farm-house being excavated in the Nahal Tabor nature reserve, a Canaanite cultic standing stone (like ones at Hazor or Gezer) in secondary usage as part of a door frame. The Canaanite temple, where this object would have originally stood, has not yet been found.

Nimrod Fortress

A second stone, with part of a relief of a lion, symbol of Mamluk Sultan Baybars was uncovered at Nimrod by the Parks Authority (INPA). This relief is approximately 1.1 meters long, 0.7 meters high and 0.6 meters wide (25% larger than the first lion discovered 15 years ago in an excavation by Hartal), with some parts of the lion still intact and visible, though lacking its head, mane and front legs.

Nimrod Lion 2

Photo: INPA

Baybar's Lion, Nimrod Fortress

First Station, at Jerusalem’s original railway station built in 1892, terminus of the Jaffa-Jerusalem Railway, is advertised as the meeting place of food and culture. What we can say is it’s bopping.


One starting point is the visitors center where you can get information, book a Segway or electric bicycle tour and buy souvenirs. There is a Re:bar, frozen yoghurt and shakes, a Vaniglia ice cream, kiosk selling draught beer and snacks and a market building with cheese, produce, wine, pizza, chocolates, etc. There are 4 restaurants, 2 kosher and 2 not, an interesting balance of religion and marketing. The Miznon and Fresh are dairy kosher cafe restaurants; Landwers café and Adom restaurant and wine bar, not kosher, open Shabbat. Events this month include an Eco Sukkah competition and Seventy Faces photography exhibit, part of the Jerusalem Biennale. Check it out. For complete listing see http://www.firststation.co.il/en/

Dome of the Rock

When viewing the Old City skyline probably the most striking sight is the gold dome of the Dome of the Rock. The Umayyad Caliph Abd el-Malik had this shrine built like a Byzantine martyrium, octagonal in shape, in 691CE over a rock on the Temple Mount.

Dome of the Rock ~1934, Matson collection

Over the years various metal coverings have been tried on the dome. In 1993 King Hussein of Jordan donated $8.2 million to cover the dome with a layer of  gold, 80kg in total. In Muslim tradition the rock is the place where the prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven on his Night Journey. The platform is called the Haram el-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary.

In Jewish tradition the rock is the foundation stone from which the whole world was created, where later Abraham was commanded to go and sacrifice his son Isaac. King David purchased the area from Araunah the Jebusite who was using it as a threshing floor (2 Samuel 24) and built an altar there marking the place where Solomon built the First Temple. The platform was extended by King Herod in 20BCE while renovating the Second Temple.

There is a special feeling on the Haram el-Sharif, away from the hustle of the Old City – you can feel a lot of history there. While most of the buildings are Islamic there are remnants of Crusader architecture and even capitals from the Byzantine period, Roman marble columns and a sarcophagus (check out the similarity to the one discovered at Herodium). The First and Second Temples stood for 1000 years on this site. It is important to understand the centrality of the Old City of Jerusalem to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The other day I visited the Haram el-Sharif in the early morning light. I passed through the airport-like security by the Western Wall plaza and walked up the wooden ramp that leads to the Mugrabi gate and shot these photos. Click on an image below to view it full-size. I’d be interested in hearing your comments.

Coins found in archaeological excavations

There is real excitement to finding coins in an archaelogical dig, it’s like finding buried treasure. When I was volunteering at the dig at Herodium, clearing a small area of the tomb area we found a few coins from the Bar Kokhba Revolt. Coins help archaeologists date the layer in which they are working. Here is a list of some recent finds:

  • An extremely rare 2200 year old gold coin, minted in Alexandria by King Ptolemy V Epiphanes was uncovered at Tel Kedesh, near Israel’s border with Lebanon. The head of the Coin Department of the Israel Antiquities Association, Dr. Ariel, said, “This is the heaviest (27.7 grams compared to most ancient gold coins that weight 4.5 grams) and hence most valuable ancient gold coin ever found in an excavation in Israel. The coin depicts a queen, believed to be Arsinoe II Philadelphus, who was married to her half-brother Ptolemy II. It is possible, however, that it may actually be Ptolemy V’s wife Cleopatra I, daughter of Antiochus III.” First Book of the Maccabees (vii. 6) and Josephus devote considerable attention to Antiochus III since it was through him that Judea’s long and peaceful quietude amid constant warfare all around was interrupted.
  • A half shekel coin was found in the drainage channel of the Second Temple period road leading from the Siloam Pool to the Temple Mount. The coin was used to pay the annual head tax as commanded in the Bible. The shekel that was found in the excavation weighs 13 grams, bears the head of Melqart, the chief deity of the city of Tyre on the obverse (equivalent to the Semitic god Baal) and an eagle on the prow of a ship on the reverse. The coin was minted in the year 22 CE.
  • A silver half shekel coin was discovered in the rubble from the Temple Mount dumped by the Waqf in the Kidron Valley and being sifted at Emeq Tsurim. On one side of the coin, a branch with three pomegranates is visible with the inscription “Holy Jerusalem.” The other side of the coin bears a chalice from the First Temple and says “Half Shekel.” During the days of the Great Revolt, they replaced the Tyrian shekels for the head tax. The coin was minted in the first year of  the Great Revolt against the Romans 66 BCE.
  • A coin minted by the Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes IV (175-163 BCE) of the Chanukah story was discovered in the rubble dumped in the Kidron valley from the Temple Mount.
  • A gold coin from Napoleon III was discovered in the rubble. In total, some 3500 coins have been found by the Emeq Tsurim Sifting Project. To listen to an interview that I did with IsraelSeen click here.
  • A hoard of 264 gold coins from the Byzantine period (4th-6thC CE) were found in the excavations in the Givati parking lot across from Ir David. All the coins are identical, with the likeness of the emperor Heraclius (610-641CE) wearing military garb and holding a cross in his right hand on the obverse, with the sign of the cross on the reverse. These coins were minted at the beginning of Heraclius’ reign (between the years 610-613 CE), one year before the Persians conquered Byzantine Jerusalem in 614 CE.
  • A rare Crusader minted coin has been identified, after it was recently found in excavations in the Jaffa Flea market. The find, a rare Frankish silver half drachma, is the first specimen to come from a controlled excavation. It was minted only during a very brief period in Frankish Acre, between 1251 and 1257, and was discovered in a domestic structure dating to the 13th century with ceramics dating to the same period. Interestingly, the coin imitates the half dirhem struck in Damascus by the Ayyubids during the first half of the 13th century. In 1250 Bishop Eudes de Chateauroux, learning that the Franks were minting imitation coins with Muslim themes (name of Muhammad and his birth date) ordered an end to the practice, requesting the personal intervention of the Pope Innocent IV.