The Revelation of Jerusalem

A Review of Archaeological Research

By: Frances W. James

Originally Published in 1979

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Ever since the year 587 B.C. when the Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and the 18-year old Jehoiachin of Judah led off to exile in Babylonia, the reign and works of Solomon have represented the classic peak of human well-being—spiritual and material—to much of humankind. Needless to say, during the millennia the size and magnificence of both kingdom and works ensuing have not suffered in imagi­nation from the absence of hard facts.

Early in the 19th century, it was realized that the ruins of the past nearly always underlie the structures of the present; almost continuously since then, one learned group or another has been making great efforts to trace Solomonic Jerusalem. For many years, much was attempted but little learned. Or, if discoveries were made, they were misinterpreted, one of the main misleading factors being the understand­able tendency to identify sophisticated Roman work—especially that of Herod, who, in fact, did build a Temple—the Third—as Solomonic.

By the 1920’s and ’30’s, enough informa­tion had piled up to yield the beginnings of a picture of Old Testament Jerusalem: for instance, Mt. Ophel, the smaller and more easterly of the two hills on which the city lies, was firmly identified as the site of the Temple and the Solomonic city, suggesting that the latter, covering an area of just under 11 acres, had had a curious profile rather like that of the state of Florida.

Since World War II, large-scale excava­tions in Jerusalem and elsewhere have added further information and have made it possible to put together much detail on Solomon’s empire. We now believe that Solomon’s palace was a type of building known as a bit hilani, as stereotyped a construction over much of the ancient Near East as the later Christian church, and we can (we think) even understand and explain his construction of the enig­matic millo. Prototypes and parallels for the Temple crop up from time to time all over the Levant.

Elsewhere, the circumvallations of a number of Solomon’s “fenced cities” have been identified—their stumpy but splendid remains suggesting that the ancient chron­iclers were quite right to describe them with awe. Finally, we have much informa­tion on the everyday objects of the middle years of the 10th century B.C. when Solomon ruled the Ancient East, and so can flesh out the bare bones of architec­tural plan and Old Testament narrative.

Yet there is also much that we will never know. This is partly because what remains for archaeology to find is in itself limited and partly because, even finding all of this, the whole story still cannot be told by: material remains. In this particular case, a further difficulty exists in that the nucleus of the fabled kingdom—the palace, Temple and associated buildings—lies buried beneath Jerusalem’s beautiful Dome of the Rock, the mosque of Omar, a site sacred—and therefore inviolable—to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike, though for slightly different reasons to each group.

This inviolable area is unfortunately expanded from the relatively small space actually occupied by the Dome (which tradition alternately identifies as the site of the threshing floor of Arunah the Jebusite or the altar stone on which Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac) to include the whole acreage of the Harem esh Sharif or Sacred Enclosure within Herod’s massive boundary wall, In short, we cannot get at what we most want to know because of its very sanctity; further, this sanctity beams out from the enclosed area to take in its periphera. Recent excavations not far beyond the boundary wall have inevi­tably brought protests.

The story of the ongoing discoveries here, as everywhere in the Holy Land, is a funny, glorious, heroic one, one of the true labors of love which all good research represents. You can say that it started in 1865 with the first efforts of the young Royal Engineer lieutenants seconded to the British Palestine Exploration Fund, or you can say that it started a couple of millennia earlier with the Empress Helena, another saint or two, and a handful of pilgrims.

Strictly speaking, Helena was not look­ing for the Temple but for the site of the crucifixion. Going out to Jerusalem in A.D. 326 shortly after the assumption of Christianity for Rome by her son Constantine the Great, Helena found the three crosses beneath a temple to Venus erected by the exasperated Emperor Hadrian after the second Jewish Revolt of A.D. 135. Helena had no trouble in identi­fying the cross of Christ: a sick man carried before the three, like Lazarus, rose and walked as its mans touched him.

From that time onward, through the whole of the Dark and Middle Ages, saints and pilgrims explored all four corners of the Holy Land, jotted down itineraries, built shrines or monasteries to commemo­rate sacred events, and considerably improved on Biblical tradition. With Napoleon’s Egyptian expedition, the aim of exploration changed from an exercise in inquisitive and imaginative piety to a search for scientific information, and with the lightning trip of the American. Edward Robinson, through Palestine in the 1840’s in which he correctly identified many of the Old Testament sites, some framework was erected on which to hang the informa­tion soon to be yielded by excavation.

The earliest effort to trace the outline of the Temple is, in retrospect, an example of Victorian doggedness and ingenuity which is both amusing and impressive. It occurred in the 1860’s when the Turks would not allow any Christian near the Haram but did give them access to the lower slopes of Ophel. Lt. (later General Sir Charles) Warren, the first of the young Royal Engineers sent here to cut their teeth in doing the impossible, explored the underpinnings of the Harem by the original method of sinking deep vertical shafts some hundreds of feet away from the great enclosure wall and then tunneling up to it at right angles.

By chance, one of Warren’s tunnels reached the Haram foundations at a colossal stone bearing ancient mason’s marks. For a time, deciphering these provided an exciting sort of international cryptogram for the 5,000 readers of the Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly. The letters today would seem to mean nothing at all but the illustration of the “inscriptions” together with the approach­ing shaft and tunnel has made a delightful frame for the Quarterly’s title page for nearly a century.

Solomon’s Jerusalem

Virtually all that the Bible tells us of the activities of Solomon in Jerusalem is to be found in Chapters vi-vii of I Kings and Chapters iii-iv of II Chronicles. Here we learn that Solomon took the “city of David” and welded it into a magnificent capital, the great city on the hill that can never be hid, building also the Temple which it was not allowed David to erect. Solomon used the same honey-colored stone as that of the present photogenic city wall (built by the Turks in A.D. 1695) which still molds the Old City of Jerusalem into its rectangular Roman layout.

The longer, narrower shape of the original Jerusalem at the southeast angle of the present walled city is to be explained by the contours and splendid natural defenses of Mt. Ophel. Solomon’s city was guarded by the incredibly steep slopes of the Kidron Valley on the east (where the bedrock slope is one of 250) and the Tyropoean on the west. The latter was filled in about the time of Christ, however, and is today just a north-south dip in the center of the Roman plan. Thus only the narrow northern side of the city was left to call for substantial, man-made defenses. As suggested by the story of David’s capture of Jerusalem—accom­plished only by subterfuge—the site was almost impregnable.

But where did Solomon’s subjects live atop the hogback ridge of Ophel? Even allowing for the minimum populations and maximum structural concentrations of the time, there is little room for dwellings here. And this brings us to the enigmatic millo—which is said to have been built “round and about” by David, Solomon, and some of the later kings of Judah. Practically all the stout gates, towers, and other substantial structures discovered on Ophel between 1865 and 1960 have in turn been identified as millo, however unconvincingly.

In the 1960’s, the late Dame Kathleen Kenyon uncovered a tremendous cascade of field stones flowing down the Kidron slope. It was an extremely puzzling dis­covery until further excavation made it clear that the stones represented the collapse of a great number of retaining walls. Some of the walls paralleled the slope; others ran up and down the hill at right angles to the first series. Together, they produced a honeycomb, the interstices of which were packed with still more rough stones; in places, this fill remained in situ to a height of about six meters. The whole had formed the underpinnings of a series of terraces which provided a hori­zontal extension to the eastern side of the area on which houses on the Kidron side of Ophel were erected.

Since the root of the Hebrew verb form­ing millo means something like “filling,” this great stone network seems the best candidate for millo yet put forward. It would have needed much building and rebuilding round and about over time, as a breach anywhere in the complex would have brought down great stretches of walls and houses. In fact, after millo perished in Nebuchadnezzar’s savage sack, the Kidron slopes of Ophel were never reoccupied, though a small settlement again rose on the crest in the period of the Second Temple.

Potsherds and other archaeological material show that the stone network originated in the Late Bronze Age, four or five hundred years before the time of Solomon; about the period, in fact, when the Bible suggests the Israelites were in Egypt. The builders of millo were the Caananite predecessors of Arunah the Jebusite and the construction was, per­force, maintained by the conquering Israelite kings. A great defensive wall ringed the city still further down the slope, This was shown to have been still earlier, built in the Middle Bronze Age nearly a millennium before the time of Solomon.

Virtually all of surviving Solomonic Jerusalem which is not buried beneath the Haram lies on the fragile stone under­pinnings of millo on the Kidron slope. Even so, thanks to millo’s instability, the build­ings found here by excavation are in the main to be dated only to the final period of the First Temple, ca. 587 B.C.

The houses which occupied millo in Solomon’s day and later may well have been what archaeology has found to be typical Israelite houses, following a uni­form plan. These consist of three long, parallel rooms, the center one sometimes used as a courtyard. This usually contains the entrance at its narrow end. A fourth long, narrow room runs across the back of the building (or occasionally across the front when it would contain the entrance) at right angles to the other three. Some­times rows of stone pillars divide the central room from the rooms on either side; sometimes the division is made with solid mudbrick walling. Whatever the origin of this house plan, many of Solomon’s subjects, especially those in the northern part of his kingdom, lived in such dwellings.

At the north of Ophel, Solomon built the Temple and his palace—which at this point in history would naturally have included offices of the administration as well as the royal living quarters. If much of this today lies beneath the Haram enclosure, other Israelite precincts have been found over the years at such diverse sites as Hazor and Megiddo in northern and Gezer in southern Palestine, all built by Solomon; at Samaria to the north, a similar enclave constructed by Omri and Ahab of Israel about 660 B.C. has been excavated. Yet another, of uncertain date, has been found very recently at Ramat Rahel in the southern suburbs of Jerusalem.

Closely related plan, masonry and decorative elements occur at all five sites, suggesting incoming new ideas and new empires at the time of Solomon. Borrowing elements from one or another of them (and from a few sites in Syria and Assyria) we can get some idea of the grandiose “new Jerusalem” of this fabled monarch.

One and all the quarters reserved for royalty at these scattered sites were demarcated by an enclosure wall utilizing casemates. That is to say, there was a double wall with inner and outer faces set some six to ten feet apart. The intervening space sometimes was filled solidly with earth or rubble, sometimes was divided into storage compartments, depending, perhaps, on whether a fortress or “store city” was enclosed. This type of wall seems to have been introduced into Pales­tine about the time of David, in the first half of the 10th century B.C.

Just enough of such a casemate wall was found on Ophel to establish its presence to the immediate north of the city proper. Such walls and, in fact, all structures enclosed by them would seem to be the creation of sophisticated Phoenician, not Israelite, builders. We know from the Bible that Solomon’s building program was largely designed and carried out by the men of Hiram of Tyre who were sent to Jerusalem for this very purpose. One or two sites in the Phoenician area have produced parallel architecture.

In short, Solomon was attempting to move quickly into a more sophisticated milieu than that of his predecessors by calling outside specialists in to erect capital and provincial centers which would incorporate the latest architectural devel­opments and utilize the latest technological improvements.

The Royal Enclosure

Putting together the information given in the Old Testament or obtained archae­ologically from Jerusalem itself or the group of parallel sites noted, we know that Solomon’s buildings within the casemate walling at the summit of Ophel would have included his palace, or bit hilani; the “hall of the cedars of Lebanon,” or hypostyle hall; the “house of Pharaoh’s daughter”; and possibly other dwellings, administra­tive buildings and storerooms. To their north was the Temple.

Excavation suggests that Solomon erected this group of structures to the north of the northern wall of Davidic Jerusalem. On the parallels given, a case­mate wall would have been flung around these new buildings and, indeed, a frag­ment of such a wall was found on the right line. Since the royal enclosure was presumably beyond the limits of millo, the first of the series of great retaining walls bounding first the Temple and later repeated around the Harem layout must have been constructed at this time, both to provide for east-west expansion and to demarcate the royal and sacred area.

As it stands today, the lower courses of the Haram enclosure are mostly of Herodian work, large blocks of stone with smooth, flat bosses; but along the east, some 100 feet north of the southeast angle, the Jordanian Department of Antiquities in a clearance project in 1966 uncovered a straight joint with very different types of masonry to its north and south.

To the south of this joint was the Herodian work; but to its north was rather smaller, rougher work, which may well date to the 5th century B.C., to the enclosure of Ezekiel’s, or Second, Temple. This must have been founded on Solo­mon’s enclosure wall, however, and, if so, marks the southeast corner of the latter. There was then an area 232 meters from north to south between the Temple and the southern wall of the city for Solomon’s palace and administrative buildings.

It would seem simple enough to uncover buried buildings in the open space existing today south of the Haram wall. Unfortu­nately, Dame Kathleen Kenyon’s excavations in the 1960’s showed that virtually all traces of the Solomonic period (and therefore of later periods as well) had been removed by Roman quarrying when Hadrian was attempting to obliterate the Jewish capital by founding Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina on the usual Roman city plan.

We can nevertheless get a very good idea of the individual buildings of Solo­monic Jerusalem from the provincial sites mentioned, as well as from a number of Syrian sites, where the architectural forms seem for the most part to have originated. Just as Palladian architecture became the vogue all over Europe in the late 17th century A.D., so palaces of the bit hilani form spread throughout the Levant in the Iron Age. We do not yet know why they

were “in” but they certainly were. Whether a matter of fashion or of one king keeping up with another, a number of these palaces dating to the 1st millennium B.C. have been found in northern Syria, as well as in Palestine. For example, at Tell Ta’yinat near Antioch, we have not only a typical bit hilani but an associated chapel which answers quite well to the ground plan of Solomon’s Temple as given in I Kings vi-vii. Probably rather later than the time of Solomon, the hilani form was taken east­ward with great enthusiasm by the Assyrians.

As seen at Solomonic Megiddo and Zincerli in northwestern Syria, the essen­tial elements of the hilani are porticos of two or three columns set into the long side of the building. These lead directly into a long, narrow hall designed for royal audi­ences and paralleling the portico.

Another constant element is a stairway to one side or the other of the long room, presumably leading to a tower or second storey. These rooms represent the public part of the palace, while behind or to one side of the throne room is to be found a courtyard leading to the king’s private apartments which consisted of four or five small rooms.

In some of the Syrian and Assyrian hilanis, daises were found at one end of the throne room, together with curious parallel grooved tracks set at right angles to the dais. The latter seem to have been used to move a brazier nearer to or further from the enthroned king; a square, iron container on wheels was found still on its tracks at Tell Halaf. At Tell Ta’yinat and some of the Assyrian palaces, the cast-bronze feet of (mostly wooden) furniture have been found. These feet often copy a bull’s hoof or a lion’s paw or a griffin’s claw (like Queen Anne furniture to which they may be distantly ancestral]. A not too dissimilar setting must have provided the background to many of the judgments of Solomon.

The ornamentation of the portico and audience halls was impressive but prob­ably not elaborate. With the bit hilani, columns or pillars in number are intro­duced into Palestine. These are probably topped with the great proto-lonic or proto­Aeolic capitals found on many excava­tions. On the hilani portico the column would have been free-standing with the capitals carved on both faces; elsewhere, attached pilasters occur, in which case the capitals were carved on one face only. Over thirty of the proto-lonic capitals have been found since the 1930’s; thirteen at Megiddo, seven at Samaria, ten at Ramat Rahel, and one each at Hazor and Jerusalem.

We have illustrations of Milani porticos from Assyria to be dated somewhat later than the time of Solomon. One shows the feature as used by Sargon, the conqueror of Samaria, about 720 B.C. Here two col­umns support a lintel, in turn supporting a row of crenellations. Carved blocks for the latter have been found on Israelite sites producing the bikinis, as Megiddo, Samaria, and Ramat Rahel.

Yet another Mani facade from the time of Ashurbanipal, about the middle of the 7th century B.C., comes from reliefs found in the palace of this “King of the four quarters” at Nineveh. Here both columns and pilasters are incorporated; the latter, at the outer edges of the portico, while the columns are shown forming the central entrance. Since more than four (or five) capitals were found at three of the Israelite sites, either several porticos are repre­sented at each (as occurs at some of the Syrian sites) or the proto-Ionic capitals were used for a type of ornamental embellishment as yet unknown to archae­ologists. It has been suggested that in Assyria the porticos may have opened on little gardens, and this custom, too, may have been incorporated into Solomon’s palace installation.

Small, inset windows with grills of vertical bars placed near the top of the external walls are yet another architectural feature of this building style. Windows are mentioned in the Bible, but we know about them not from their direct archaeological discovery, but from the excavation of carved ivory decorations showing a woman gazing out of a window surrounded by concentric insets. One of the earliest dis­coveries of ivories with this motif was made at Samaria in the ’30’s. Through just such a window Jezebel, trying to entice Jehu as described in II Kings ix: 30, might have looked down at the murderer of her son, “When Jehu came to Israel, Jezebel heard of it; and she painted her eyes and adorned her head and looked out at the window.”

“The woman at the window” seems to have been a very popular ivory-carving motif. A number of examples show the lady gazing over a row of small proto-lonic columns set just below the window open­ing. These small balusters seem also to be represented on the Assyrian reliefs show­ing houses in Phoenician cities. Remains of a number of the little palmette balusters in stone were found at Ramat Rahel a few years ago by Yohanan Aharoni, adding one bit more to our knowledge of the archi­tectural detail of Israelite buildings—to say nothing of verifying the accuracy of the Assyrian artists.

We know much less of the internal appearance of the secular buildings of Solomon and other Israelite rulers than of their exteriors. As with the furnishings of today, internal fitments were probably more often of perishable materials than those used for the exterior, Moveable items, also, seem to have been in any case rather sparse.

We have one or two details, however. The cedar panelling noted in the Temple in I Kings vi would probably also have been used in domestic structures and would itself have been ornamented with the ivory carvings. In fact, Old Testament descriptions of Ahab’s “house of ivory” almost certainly refer to decoration rather than structural materials. Masses of small burnt ivory carvings were found in the destruction levels at Samaria, confirming this interpretation.

The ivories were carved in Phoenicia (the Phoenicians importing ivory and exporting carvings, as the Swiss import cocoa beans and export chocolate bars because in each case land was or is insufficient to support the population by agriculture alone). New examples of the ivories are constantly turning up all over the ancient Near East. By far the largest group found to date comes from Nimrud­Old Testament Calah—which was exca­vated in the 1960’s by Sir Max Mallowan.

This city in central Iraq was used as the staging area for the Assyrians’ nearly annual campaigns against the Levant, including the Israelite kingdoms. Loot from these expeditions was brought back and stored in quantity at Calah. Some of the ivories found here bore the names of their original Levantine owners. None associated with an Israelite king turned up at Nimrud, but from the palace of Ahab’s great foe, Ben-Hadad of Damascus, came some found at nearby Arslan Tash.

Another of the buildings in Solomon’s palace complex is called by the Old Testament the “house of the Forest of Lebanon.” It is said to have been 50 meters long by 25 meters wide by 15 meters high with a roof of cedar wood, supported by 45 pillars in three rows, In Egyptian archi­tecture, this terminology would describe a hypostyle hall utilizing stone columns. Hypostyle halls may well be an idea bor­rowed by the Phoenicians from Egypt, translated into terms of Lebanese cedar and then introduced into Palestine with Solomon’s innovations.

No parallels for such a hall have been found in any of the royal Israelite com­pounds, or, indeed, anywhere east of Egypt except at Darius’ much later capital of Persepolis in Persia. However, it is quite possible that similar halls will be found sooner or later.

Also briefly mentioned in the Old Testament is the “House of Pharaoh’s Daughter.” This princess, who brought the city of Gezer as her dowry, may have been the daughter of Siamun, who ruled Lower Egypt from ca. 1000 to ca. 984 B.C. Marriage to her would have been a most important dynastic alliance and indicative of Solomon’s standing in the world of the 10th century B.C., as this princess is the only Egyptian princess we know of to have been married to a foreign king. However, while useful international ties would have been cemented by this union, it would cer­tainly have been against tradition calling for marriage within the Israelite religion. Dame Kathleen Kenyon has suggested that this, taken with the supposition that the lady was Solomon’s principal wife, may account for her having a household of her own. Quite possibly, her building was joined to Solomon’s bit hilani and other structures as the various palaces at Zincerli were strung together.

This brings us at long last to the Temple, the structure of which the chronicler describes in considerable, but unfortu­nately, rather ambiguous and less than full detail. Each year I ask my students to make plans and drawings of the Temple from its description in I Kings; and each year they are reproachful to a degree at being asked to do the obviously impossible. Admittedly we do have fuller details of the internal gold, bronze and cedar fittings of the building, but to what extent this gives us a description of the interior of a typical Phoenician temple, or is unique to Jeru­salem, only further excavation on the Phoenician coast will tell us.

It is not surprising, therefore, that in the absence of discoveries of the actual remains of the Temple itself, various scholars have come to various conclusions about it. So I will not attempt to reconcile the Bible with modern scholars nor one modern scholar with another. In fact, many of the archaeological discoveries of secular architecture, or their academic correlations as described, have occurred so recently that there has been little time to incorpo­rate them into up-to-date reconstructions. Our knowledge really raises as many problems as it looks to solve. Did, for example, the highly ornate “chapitres” or capitals of the cast-bronze pillars of Jachin and Boaz, which are said to have stood in front of the Temple, utilize the proto-lonic motif?

What actually remains of the Temple is today buried deep beneath the Haram, unlikely to be disturbed. Archaeology thus cannot provide a “real” vision to disturb the individual visions we keep in our hearts. And this is perhaps just as it should be. Each of us may thus keep intact our own picture and continue to cherish it.

Atop Ophel, we see a honey-colored building gleaming in the vibrant light of the Mediterranean, Undoubtedly, it will be haloed by one of those very special double or triple rainbows which occur in this area during the spring and winter and which have always seemed to me specifically sent to underscore Jerusalem’s unique position as the emotional center for much of the world.

Cite This Article

James, Frances W.. "The Revelation of Jerusalem." Expedition Magazine 22, no. 1 (September, 1979): -. Accessed February 22, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/the-revelation-of-jerusalem/


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