A Possible Solution to the ‘Problem’ of Jerusalem

Those of us who study the history of ancient Israel and Judah know just how thorny the question of Jerusalem‘s material remains are. The biblical texts have a firmly Jerusalem-centric view, and yet there is a paucity of material remains from the Iron Age (1200–586 BC). An article has just been published by some very prominent archaeologists—Israel Finkelstein, Ido Koch, and Oded Lipschits—addressing the problem. They suggest that the ‘problem’ of Jerusalem’s scant artefactual remains might be due to the city being limited to the area on the Temple Mount. Here is an extract of their article:

The original mound of Jerusalem—that is, the acropolis and the settlement—which had been located on the Temple Mount, was boxed-in under the Herodian platform in the late first century B.C.E. … This mound on the Temple Mount was the sole location of the town in the Middle Bronze, Late Bronze, Iron I, Iron IIA, Persian and early Hellenistic periods. In all these periods activity in the City of David was meager and restricted to the central part of the ridge, mainly its eastern side near the Gihon spring.


In other words, Finkelstein, Koch, and Lipschits still suggest that Jerusalem was a small town throughout the Iron Age (and subsequent ages), but that the scant remains of Jerusalem might be attributed to the fact that the city itself was located almost totally on the Temple Mount. This is the area that Herod the Great cleared, flattened, and built over in the first century BC, eradicating any real archaeological ‘footprint’ that might have been there from previous eras.

You can access the entire article here at Journal of Hebrew Scriptures.

12 thoughts on “A Possible Solution to the ‘Problem’ of Jerusalem

    • It’s possible, even plausible. But there’s no way you could ever prove it. And therein lies the problem. When they say they are putting forward a ‘possible’ solution to the problem, ‘possible’ should be underlined.

  1. Thanks for pointing to this George! I agree, it sounds plausible. It may be less probable if we read the large numbers of the Exodus and related passages in the traditional way, but I think there are grounds there for thinking that reading is open to better interpretations. If that’s the case, and ancient Israel’s population is small, a small Jerusalem would be quite feasible.

    • Unfortunately, the editors at CNN have no idea about what ‘City of David’ actually means. Khirbet Qeiyafa, the ruins in the short clip, was really just a fortified structure in the Judean foothills on the border with the Philistine cities. ‘City of David’, however, refers to Jerusalem or a part of Jerusalem, way up on the ridge of the Judean highlands. There is sparse evidence for settlement at Jerusalem during the early Iron II era (the time of David), which is controversial given the focus on Jerusalem at this time in the biblical texts. This lack of evidence has led many to suggest that there was no David because there was no operative Jerusalem at the time. The finds at Khirbet Qeiyafa have challenged this, as many now believe that it suggests there was some kind of organised state at the time. So Khirbet Qeiyafa may suggest that there was indeed a City of David (Jerusalem) that was operative in early Iron II. The problem now is finding the evidence in Jerusalem itself to support this. And this is where Finkelstein (who is interviewed in the CNN clip) and his co-authors come in. They are suggesting that the remains are not where we have thought they were (in Jerusalem’s ‘Ophel’ ridge, often also called ‘City of David’), but rather on the Temple Mount. But we cannot dig on the Temple Mount because of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque occupying it.

  2. Some one else on WordPress said the same thing to me. Thank you for correcting me. I wish that you guys would say something to CNN.com. The article seemed kind of hokey to me. #1. They made it sound like it is this amazing new find. Obviously it looks like a very cool dig…olive trees, animals, but strangly no pigs or whatever, pottery… but when you look at the arial picture that they were showing it seems they must have been aware if its presence for some time.

    • The media, unfortunately, usually jump for a sensational title before knowing what is actually going on. The site has been known for a while, but it hadn’t been excavated until very recently (the last few years). So the aerial shot you get of the ruins is a very recent one. It would have been completely covered over beforehand and, therefore, been something of an enigma. The significance of the site comes from the fact that it has only one basic stratigraphic level, making it fairly easy to correlate with other sites.

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