« Israeli Security Concerns Ignored...Again | Main | LGF Sets Up Gaza Photoblog »

August 10, 2005

New York Times Raises Doubts on Jewish Connection to Jerusalem

Last week (Aug. 5), the New York Times published an article about the archeological discovery of King David's palace—a major find by a prominent archeologist. But Jerusalem bureau chief Steven Erlanger started right off the bat by suggesting the work may have been tainted by political motives and that Jerusalem's historical role as capital of the Jewish kingdom is disputed:

[The archeologist's] work has been sponsored by a conservative Israeli research institute and financed by an American Jewish investment banker who would like to prove that Jerusalem was indeed the capital of the Jewish kingdom described in the bible.

The International Herald Tribune version of the same article cast similar aspersions on the scholarly institute for which Eilat Mazar, the archeologist, worked, qualifying her finding as mere opinion by someone with a political motive. The opening paragraph began:

An Israeli archaelogist says she has uncovered in East Jerusalem what she believes may be the fabled palace of the biblical King David. Her work has been sponsored by the Shalem Center, a neoconservative think tank in Jerusalem, and funded by an American Jewish investment banker who would like to help provide scientific support for the Bible as a reflection of Jewish history.

Perhaps most disturbing was Erlanger's presentation of Judaism's bond to Jerusalem as a political claim equal in weight to Yasir Arafat's pronouncement that there is no Jewish connection to the holy city.

Historian Barry Rubin challenges the New York Times article:

Yet now Erlanger gives equal credence to the “expertise” of Arafat who, let’s face it was no archaeologist but the most important terrorist of modern times and a proven serial liar. {Having written a biography of Arafat I am well aware that even the statement that Arafat was a terrorist is highly controversial among the West’s cultural ruling class.} After all, Arafat also claimed that Israel carried out most of the terrorist attacks on itself, poisoned Palestinians with gas, water, and chewing gum, and aimed to rule the entire Middle East. Why should he only be given credence on the Jerusalem issue?

In contrast, when Arafat tried that nonsense about Jerusalem at the Camp David summit, President Bill Clinton rightly called him on it, saying, “I’m not a Jew, I’m a Christian. It’s well known this is where the Temple is.”

On the basis of this latest article, though, one can imagine a parallel Times article from an equivalent controversy of the previous century: “The claim by a Jewish writer, financed by those trying to prove this case, that his people have accurately recounted their history will become part of the debate over whether, as many Germans have said, including cabinet minister Joseph Goebbels, this story is a myth used to justify conquest and occupation.”

Posted by RH at August 10, 2005 03:40 PM


Here is my letter and Mr. Erlanger's response to it:

Mr. Erlanger,

That a Times reporter could assert that the question of "whether the Jews have their origins here" is open to debate is outrageous.

Some things are matters of opinion. The monumental building that Mazar has discovered may or may not prove to have been a royal palace.

Other things are simply facts.

Saudi Arabia has a law prohibiting the heliocentric theory of the solar system from being taught in its schools. This does not mean that the sun revolves aroungd the earth.

Similarly, the Jews have their origins in the land of Israel. Reasonable people can argue about whether this entitles the Jews to continue to have a Jewish State in that land. Reasonable people cannot, however, deny as you did, that the Jewish people have origins in that land.

Of course, you cannot be an expert on everything. The best instant reporting and responsible scholarship on this find (and this subject) can be found at


dear ms. ___

first, thanks for the fascinating blog. i can't speak for editors, but my copy was quite clear about Samuel 2, chapter 5, which i read very carefully. i'm not asserting anything, and you misinterpret what is an effort, however much it may not succeed, at describing the palestinian take...

The find will also be used in the broad political battle over Jerusalem - whether the Jews have their origins here and thus have some special hold on the place, or whether, as many Palestinians have said, including the late Yasir Arafat, the idea of a Jewish origin in Jerusalem is a myth used to justify conquest and occupation.

i have no doubt that the temple mount contained the two temples, for example.

allbest, steven erlanger

Posted by: Diana at August 11, 2005 07:27 AM

I know that it is absurd to have to prove an incontrovertible fact, like the fact that the Jews originated in Judea, or that the Temple in Jerusalem existed.

Nevertheless, for those who for whatever reason need irrefutable scholarly evidence, here's the authoritative statment:

Friday, August 12, 2005

EVIDENCE FOR THE FIRST ("SOLOMONIC") TEMPLE: This is my second post for the Temple Mount blogburst. The first dealt with evidence for the Second Temple and the Herodian Temple.

The main source for such information as we have on a Temple in Jerusalem in the Iron Age II (c. 1000-586/587 BCE) is the account of it in the so-called Deuteronomistic History (the books of Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings) which is widely regarded as a work completed around the end of the Iron Age II (but see below). (No archaeological evidence for the Temple has been recovered so far. Herod's extensive rebuilding of the Second Temple and his expansion of the Temple Platform may have obliterated all such evidence.) The relevant books are 1-2 Kings. We are told the King Solomon built the Temple around 960 BCE (1 Kings 6:1, 37). We are given details of the building in this chapter and chapter 7, and its dedication by Solomon is described in chapter 8. Much of the remaining material in 1-2 Kings is devoted to the northern kingdom of Israel, but Solomon's Temple is next mentioned in the reign of Jehoash in the late ninth century in 2 Kings 12:4-16, which describes arrangements for the refurbishment of the Temple. The Temple was looted by Jehoash King of Israel (a different Jehoash) according to 2 Kings 14:14 in the early eighth century and was looted again by King Ahaz in the late eighth century to bribe the king of Assyria to come to his aid against Aram (2 Kings 16:8). Ahaz also installed some cultic innovations in the Temple which were abhorrent to the author of 1-2 Kings (2 Kings 16:10-18). The Temple also figures in the time of King Hezekiah, later in the same century (2 Kings 18:23, 19:1), and in the reign of his son Manasseh in the early and middle part of the seventh century (2 Kings 21:4-9). Manasseh too made innovations to the Temple cult. King Josiah refurbished and made changes to the Temple c. 621 BCE (2 Kings 22:3-9; 23:11-12). The Temple was plundered by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, during the brief reign of Jehoiachin c. 598 (2 Kings 24:13), and Nebuchadnezzar burned down the Temple in 586/587 BCE (2 Kings 25:9).

The Temple also figures in some of the books of prophecies attributed to the pre-exilic prophets. See, for example, Isaiah 6, Micah 4:1, and Jeremiah 7.

As I said, it is widely, but not universally accepted that the Deuteronomistic History (Dtr) was written, perhaps in two editions, during the reign of Josiah or within a few decades of the destruction of Jerusalem. This is the view I accept. A minority viewpoint, but an important one, thinks that it was written considerably later, in the late Persian Period (c 500-300 BCE) or even in the Hellenistic Period in the third or second centuries BCE. I find the last view very hard to defend. The Hebrew of the Dtr looks to me to be much more like that of the pre-exilic inscriptions than that of Hellenistic Hebrew. (I think there is a doctoral dissertation to be written on this.) The Dtr is also entirely lacking in the sort of anachronisms we would expect from a Hellenistic text. It contains no Persian words, no Greek words, and no mention of persons or events later than the early part of the exile.

But whenever we date it, there remains the question of how reliable the information in it is. To give a heuristic context, is the Dtr more like Geoffery of Monmouth's account of Aurthurian "history" in the History of the Kings of Britain, which mentions many historical personages but is rife with anachronisms, and full of historical errors, and largely legendary; or is it more like Book 2 of Herodotus' Histories, which gives an account of Egyptian history that gets the outline, order, and players in the story pretty much right, but which has a good bit of legendary material and whose contents are very much selected for Greek interest and slanted with a Greek viewpoint?

The evidence seems pretty clear to me that the Dtr is more like Herodotus' work than Geoffrey's. There is good reason to doubt much of the account of the United Monarchy under David and Solomon. Archaeological survey points toward a small population in Judah and against a state apparatus that could have supported the sort of empire described for David and Solomon. (The new excavation in Jerusalem may or may not change this perspective. It's too early to tell.) If there was a Temple built in the time of Solomon, it probably was a more modest building than what is described and which seems to have been the template for the later temples in Judah, Elephantine, and perhaps Samaria. The Aramaic Tel Dan inscription does refer to the "House of David" (בית דוד) in the ninth century BCE, so the dynasty isn't likely to be entirely legendary. (The genuineness of this inscription has been questioned, but it was dug up in a scientific excavation, and the type of extraordinary proof one would need to show an inscription to be a forgery in such a situation has not yet been advanced, in my opinion.)

All this said, the writer of the Dtr did have some good information. Quite a number of the kings of Israel and Judah are mentioned in outside sources, and in the Dtr they always appear in the proper order, at the proper time, and in relation to the proper figures in the larger ancient Near Eastern world. A few of the episodes, such as the Egyptian King Shishak's invasion of Judea in the time of Rehoboam; the destruction of Samaria by the Assyrian King Sargon II; the Assyrian King Sennacherib's invasion of Judea in the time of Hezekiah; and the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar's conquest of Jerusalem, receive independent verification from extrabiblical inscriptions. And the writer knows a good many details that show that some of the sources used were pretty good. For example, the denominations of weights used for commerce which are mentioned casually in the Dtr do correspond closely to the (sometimes inscribed) weights actually excavated in Judah, only in the late Iron Age II.

The episode involving Hezekiah (2 Kings 18 and 19, paralleled in Isaiah 36 and 37) is illuminating for what it tells us we can expect from the Dtr. The Dtr gives us the proper players in the proper time and place and tells us correctly that Sennacherib invaded Judah and conquered its cities but failed (or neglected) to take Jerusalem. Some of the rest is legendary. It may be that Sennacherib's army encountered some difficulty during the campaign (Herodotus also hints at this in 2:141), but we can dismiss Dtr's report that the angel of the Lord smote 185,000 men in the Assyrian army: armies this large were not fielded until much more recent times. And the picture in the Dtr is misleading in places, if not exactly wrong. The destruction of the strategically critical city of Lachish is hinted at but never actually mentioned. It may be that when the latter was accomplished, Sennacherib did not feel that Jerusalem was important enough to take, which would explain why it was not captured. The last part of chapter 19 does not make clear that some twenty years passed between Sennacherib's withdrawal from Judah and his assassination.

In other words, the Dtr gives us the general flow of actual history, but mixed in with lots of legends, distortions, and spin. Much like Herodotus on Egypt.

If the Dtr was, as I and most scholars think, either written in the late seventh century and updated in the early sixth or written entirely in the early sixth century, it is simply unfathomable that the story of a royally sponsored Temple in Jerusalem was entirely made up. Too many people were around who were alive in the time and would have known better.

If the Dtr was written some centuries after this, it is still very difficult to imagine that the Temple was entirely made up and was an innovation of the Persian Period. The Temple is a feature that figures importantly in the narrative not only in the time of Solomon, but throughout the Judean monarchy and especially in the last century of the Iron Age. It is the sort of thing that might be made up in the Camelot of Geoffrey, but not in a work like the Dtr. It may well be that a smaller sanctuary in Solomon's time or later was expanded over time into the relatively large edifice at the end of the Iron Age (Herod's Temple would be an analogy), but the testimony of the Dtr combined with the consistent testimony of explicitly post-exilic literature makes a compelling case that a royal Temple stood in Jerusalem in the Iron Age II.

Some other considerations offer ancillary support. A temple designed roughly on the model of the First Temple (same dimensions and oriented in the direction of Jerusalem) was built in Elephantine, Egypt, by Aramaic-speaking Judean (the "Judean garrison" [חילא יהודיא]) worshippers of YHWH (YHW). It was destroyed in the late fifth century and then rebuilt. The petitioners for rebuilding reported that Cambyses had already found the Elephantine Temple present when he came to Egypt in 525 BCE, which means it was built before the Judean Second Temple in 520 BCE. (The petitioners were writing to the Judean governor and representative of the Persian Empire who would have been in a position to check their claim and who would have been informed by the rather hostile Judean priestly authorities if there had been any doubt about it. The petitioners would have had every incentive not to make claims that could be challenged.)

Here we have an interesting situation. In the sixth century BCE two temples were built by worshippers of YHWH, each on very similar lines. The earlier of the two was built by an expatriated Judean community in southern Egypt. The consistent Judean tradition about the later one, built in Jerusalem, was that it was built on the same site and along the same lines as an Iron Age-II temple destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar. Which makes more sense: (a) both Temples just happened to be so similar; (b) the Jerusalemite Judeans actually imitated the Temple in Elephantine; (b) both temples were inspired by an earlier, Iron Age Temple, as the Judean returnees from exile claimed? You decide.

There is also some epigraphic evidence that is worth mentioning. It is interesting but not decisive. One of the late-seventh-century Hebrew ostraca excavated in Arad (#18) mentions that someone is in "the House of YHWH" (בית יהוה). It is likely that this refers to the First Temple in Jerusalem. There was also a Yahwistic sanctuary in Arad, so this could be a reference to it as well. But the latter sanctuary may have been destroyed by this time, in which case the reference is probably to the Jerusalem Temple. In any case, as Ed Cook points out in his good post on this ostracon, "there seems to be no reason why Eliashib, who was presumably in Arad, would need to be informed about the welfare of the temple there." Ed also makes the important point that

regardless of how Arad 18 is interpreted, the mention of this temple should remind us that the temple of the national deity was not an optional institution in the ancient Near East; it was an absolute religious and political necessity for any state. Those who deny the existence of a "First Temple" in ancient Judah, standing in the national capital Jerusalem, find themselves in defiance, not only of the biblical record, but of all historical analogy, and must be suspected of having something on their agenda other than an interest in history.

This is spot on, and I would add that the location of holy sites has always been a very conservative matter, and the consistent, longstanding tradition that the First Temple stood on the Temple Mount makes it very probable that that is indeed where it stood.

Two Hebrew graffiti excavated in an ancient burial cave at Khirbet Beit Lei, near Lachish, may also be relevant. The first editor, Joseph Naveh, found graffito A to refer to YHWH as the "God of Jerusalem" (אלהי ירשלם) and graffito B to refer to "Moriah" (מוריה; a biblical name of the Temple Mount [2 Chronicles 3:1]) as "the dwelling of YH YHWH" (נוה יה יהוה). He dated the inscriptions tentatively to the reign of Hezekiah in the late eighth or early seventh centuries BCE. There are two problems, however. The wall-scratched graffiti are extremely difficult to read, and none of the key words is certain, apart from the name "Jerusalem" in the first. Second, the date of the inscriptions has been challenged and at least one scholar, John Gibson, would date them between the late seventh and early sixth centuries, in which case any possible reference to the Temple could refer to the Second Temple.

While I am discussing inscriptions, it is worth noting that the epigraphic evidence makes it clear that speakers of Hebrew engaged in a monumental building project in Jerusalem around 700 (the Siloam Tunnel inscription). Other excavated Hebrew inscriptions in Jerusalem around this time include the Silwan tomb inscription, the Ophel ostracon, and an ostracon from Arad that mentions "the king of Judah." Substantial corpora of Judean Hebrew correspondence by worshipers of YHWH were found on ostraca from the end of the Iron Age (late 600s to 586/87) at Lachish and Arad. The Lachish letters mention "the king" (##3, 5), "the prophet" (#3), and possibly (the reading is damaged) "Jerusalem" (#5). The Arad ostraca also refer to "the king" (#24). These are all excavated inscriptions whose genuineness is not in doubt.

As I have said before, I am not aware of any serious publication (by which I mean peer-reviewed journal articles and monographs) which argues that there was no Iron Age-II Temple in Jerusalem. Nor have any specialists who publish on the Dtr, Iron-Age II history or archaeology, etc., responded to my invitation to send me a case for this position. The main purpose of this post is to reply to the claim (never actually defended with evidence) in Palestinian and Arab circles that there was no Solomonic Temple, or indeed no Judean/Jewish Temple at all in Jerusalem. I leave it to others to discuss any further political implications of these two posts.

posted by Jim Davila | 2:00 PM

Thursday, August 11, 2005

FOR THE TEMPLE MOUNT BLOGBURST, timed to coincide with Tisha B'Av this year, I've decided to put up two posts on the historical and archaeological evidence for the existence of ancient Jewish Temples on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. I do this not because there is any controversy about the subject in serious literature by actual historians -- there isn't -- but in response to ideological denials in Palestinian and Arab circles that Jewish Temples ever stood there. Also, I'm presenting a paper on "Archaeology, History, Politics, and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem" in the Seminar of the Centre for the Study of Politics and Religion in October here in St. Andrews, and this is a good excuse to collect some of the raw material I will be using. The first post, this one, is on the Herodian and Second Temples. The second post, to be put up later, will be on the First ("Solomonic") Temple. Thus, I will start with the more recent period and work backwards.


We are told in contemporary sources that Herod the Great (37-4 BCE) rebuilt the Second Temple and substantially expanded the Temple Platform, in effect erecting a Third Temple. Josephus gives us many details of the project in Antiquities 15.11 and a description of Herod's Temple in Jewish War 5.5. Josephus wrote near the end of the first century CE as a priest and eyewitness to the Temple. Philo of Alexandria led a delegation of Jews to Rome in 39/40 CE to persuade the Emperor Gaius Caligula not to set up an image of himself in the Temple (Embassy to Gaius). The New Testament also mentions the Temple, notably in Mark 13 and John 2:19-21.

Unlike the earlier Temples, some archaeological evidence survives for the Herodian Temple. The Temple itself was destroyed by the Romans and its rubble was hauled away centuries later when the mosques that now stand on the spot were built. But much of Herod's expanded Temple Platform has survived and has been thoroughly studies by archaeologists. Various other architectural features and fragments survive around the Platform. Most of the evidence they have found supports Josephus' description of the site. Two Greek inscriptions were recovered in the nineteenth century which warn gentiles not to stray into the Temple compound beyond the Court of the Gentiles, on pain of death.

I could give more details, but let this suffice.


Because of Herod's extensive rebuilding of the Temple Mount, archaeological evidence for earlier Temples, if it exists at all, is incorporated into his work and could only be recovered by a politically impossible, extensive excavation of the site. I have in the past expressed the hope that someday nonintrusive scanning technology may let us get at the information buried there without disturbing it. Assuming the Waqf does not continue to destroy what is there. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of textual evidence that demonstrates the existence of the Second Temple.

In Antiquities 11.1-5 Josephus summarizes the canonical account of the rebuilding of the Temple. Whatever we make of this, it is clear enough from his testimony that Herod tore down a much older Temple when he built the Third Temple.

The Dead Sea Scrolls give us our earliest fragments of important biblical texts. The scroll of the Twelve ("Minor") Prophets survives in a number of copies going back to the pre-Herodian period and perhaps back to the second century BCE. Fragments of the books of Haggai and Zechariah, which tell of the rebuilding of the Temple in 520-516/515 BCE, and of the book of Malachi, which describes the Second Temple as a longstanding institution, are among them (4QXIIa, b). A Herodian manuscript containing fragments of Haggai and Zechariah also survives (4QXIIe), as does a fragmentary manuscript of the book of Ezra (4QEzra) from perhaps a little earlier. So the Second Temple is directly attested, along with the traditional story of its origins, well before the Herodian era. It is generally agreed that the book of Haggai and the relevant part of Zechariah (chapters 1-8) were actually written at the time of the events they describe, although some scholars have expressed general skepticism about the early composition of prophetic books.

One of the noncanonical Enochic books, the Animal Apocalypse (1 Enoch 83-90) gives us additional important evidence. Fragments of the Animal Apocalypse were recovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls and at least one manuscript (4QEnf) is dated to the second half of the second century BCE. Internal evidence within the book itself points to its composition a little before 160 BCE (when its apocalyptic, after-the-fact "prophecies" start to go wildly wrong). The Animal Apocalypse purports to reveal the future course of history to the antediluvian patriarch Enoch up to the End Time, scheduled just after the Maccabean Revolt of 167-165 BCE. 1 Enoch 89:73 describes (in veiled apocalyptic language) the rebuilding of the Temple ("Tower") immediately after the return from the Exile, but claims that the offerings of this Temple were polluted and impure. In other words, the Animal Apocalypse is a work that rejects the validity of the Second Temple, but accepts the traditional account of its rebuilding after the Exile. If this tradition were regarded as at all debatable in the second century BCE, surely the writer of this work would have denied the connection with the early exiles.

Still earlier evidence survives in material from the Egyptian Elephantine archives (on which more in the second post). A letter (Cowley 30/31) from 407 BCE by Judean expatriates long-settled in Elephantine petitions the Persian governor of Judea for support in rebuilding a Temple to Yaho (i.e., YHWH) which local Egyptians had destroyed. It mentions that the petitioners had already written some time before "to Jehohanan the High Priest and his companions the priests who are in Jerusalem." A High Priest in Jerusalem? A High Priest of what? It is pretty difficult not to infer the existence of the Jerusalem Temple here, especially inasmuch as the Judeans in Elephantine are asking him to support the rebuilding of their own Temple.

In short, we have good evidence for the Second Temple going back to the fifth century BCE. I could marshal more evidence, but I think this suffices. The consistent story, traceable at least to the middle of the second century BCE and accepted by both friend and foe, is that this Temple was rebuilt by the exiles who returned from Babylon in the late sixth century BCE.

Posted by: Diana at August 13, 2005 09:35 PM

Guidelines for posting

This is a moderated blog. We will not post comments that include racism, bigotry, threats, or factually inaccurate material.

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)