Excavations illuminate Bible, Israel

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

According to Professor Dan Bahat, former district archeologist of Jerusalem, who supervised most of the major excavations in the city for 15 years, various discoveries may not absolutely “prove” the truth of the Bible stories they seem to support, but “they do help illuminate the Bible.” Bahat was in St. Louis last week, where he gave two lectures, one concerning Jerusalem sites from the Crusader period, and another on major biblical sites, including the City of David, the Pool of Shilocach and the Plaza at the Western Wall.

A native of Poland, Bahat moved to Israel while in his late 30s. He earned his bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degrees in Middle Eastern Studies. Bahat served with the Israeli Department of Antiquities for 30 years, and was involved in major excavations in Caesaria, Beit Shean, and in Jerusalem, since 1985. In his remarks on Jerusalem excavations, Bahat said that serious modern exploration of Jerusalem began in 1838, when the American archeologist, Rev. Adolph Robinson began to excavate in Jersusalem as a serious site. “Robinson also would check his discoveries against the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and other ancient sources,” Bahat said.

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“From 1838 until 1967, there were limitations on excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem, but after the Six-Day War, we could begin to freely excavate in the Old City, and the discoveries since then are greater in number and importance than in the previous years,” Bahat said. He added that in 1880, a German archeologist determined the boundaries and location of ancient Jerusalem, and area called the Hill of the City of David. “This goes back to about 1,000 B.C.E., when King David established Jerusalem as the capital, and his son Solomon built the First Temple on the Temple Mount. Later, when King Herod the Great came to power, much of the original Jerusalem sites were covered up. The Roman Emperor Hadrian wanted to rebuild Jerusalem as a pagan city, and much of the original site was used as a quarry for stones for those projects.”

Bahat described recent efforts to “reconstruct the City of David as it looked at the time of King David and King Solomon. There is a dispute among scholars about David. According to the revisionists, if David was such a great king, he would have had great palaces, while the Hill of David appeared to be very poor. But only two years ago, there was the discovery of an enormous building dating from the 10th-to-11th centuries BCE, which could be the morsels of just such a big palace which could have been King David’s. When King David conquered Jerusalem, he did not build a big palace, and I am very careful and reluctant to call this the palace of King David.

“From 1880 onward, since the excavations of Jerusalem began, when digging techniques were inferior, no public building from this period had been found. As to this discovery, while there is no proof yet, it agrees very well with the dates of the reign of King David.”

Bahat also described the discovery of an ancient water shaft near the Temple Mount, which could date back almost 4,000 years, the period that some scholars place as that of Abraham. “I cannot say for certain that Abraham’s existence has been proved, but it is exciting to look upon such an ancient construction that dates back to that period.”

The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus includes detailed descriptions of various structures and sites of ancient Jerusalem, which have been helpful to archeologists in attempting to determine the nature of their discoveries. Recent excavations over the past three decades have convinced Bahat and other archeologists that the boundaries of ancient Jerusalem were much larger than originally estimated. “We are able today to say that Jerusalem was a large city at the time of its destruction by the Babylonian King Nebuchandezzar. Our picture of what the borders of Jerusalem were have expanded since the noted archeologist Catherine Kenyan had insisted it was a small city.”

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