Discovering Jerusalem: Recent Archaeological Excavations in the Upper City
(Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 1983), 268 pp., $24.95
Not only is Jerusalem the most excavated city in the world, it is also the most fascinating to dig. Excavations in Jerusalem date back more than a century. The most productive projects, however, have occurred during the last 20 years.
Recent archaeological investigations have concentrated on the area adjacent to the Temple Mount, on the City of David (or Ophel), and on the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. The Temple Mount area and the City of David had been the subjects of earlier excavations, but the Jewish Quarter had never been dug before. For ten years, beginning in 1969, Nahman Avigad of the Hebrew University conducted a systematic and stratigraphic dig within the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. A distinguished scholar, Avigad is one of Israel’s best-known epigraphists and archaeologists.
Avigad’s dig was really a salvage project. After the Old City passed into Israeli hands during the Six-Day War of 1967, the Jewish Quarter was extensively reconstructed. In the rebuilding process, the Israeli authorities made room for archaeological investigation. Competing with the modern builders, Avigad and his team were always one step ahead of them.
Present plans call for incorporating into the new construction of the Jewish Quarter several of the architectural features, including the cardo, unearthed by the archaeologists. What better way to show continuity!
The Jewish Quarter of the Old City is situated on the Western Hill where the “Upper City” stood in the time of the Second Temple; the City of David and the Temple Mount were part of the “Lower City.” Through careful investigation of the residential area of today’s Jewish Quarter, Avigad has brought to light assorted information, a good deal of which was never before available, about the daily life of the people. Avigad’s new book is a provisional presentation of a decade of digging. Intended for both the general and the professional reader, the book’s conclusions, while for the most part valid, may need minor revision as artifacts recovered in the excavation undergo further study in preparation for the final report. Discovering Jerusalem is the English version of the original Hebrew (The Upper City of Jerusalem), which appeared in 1980. The English volume is enhanced by spectacular photographs, many by Avigad himself, a chronological table and a selected bibliography. A number of line drawings also add to the value of the book. More important, the book captures the excitement of the dig itself. The narration is so vibrant that the reader has the feeling of standing at Avigad’s side as the story is unfolding.
The book begins with a brief survey of the archaeology of Jerusalem during the past century; then follow six chapters divided according to historical periods. Chapter One discusses the First Temple period, which marked the earliest settlement on the Western Hill. Designated Iron Age II, this period extended from the eighth to the early sixth century B.C. Resolving a longstanding dispute, Avigad has demonstrated that in the period of the Judean kingdom the Old City of Jerusalem did include the Western Hill. In this he has proved Dame Kathleen Kenyon, who excavated in Jerusalem between 1961 and 1967, wrong.
Chapter Two is very brief; it deals with the period after the destruction of the First Temple (586 B.C.) and the eventual return of the exiles from Babylon. Archaeologists designate this time span as the Persian and Early Hellenistic periods. According to Avigad, during this time (late sixth–third centuries B.C.) the Western Hill was unoccupied.
Chapter Three, the longest and most important section of the book, treats the Second Temple period. This was the era of Jerusalem’s greatest splendor, the time of its greatest building activities. The time span embraces the Hasmonean period (167–37 B.C.) as well as the period of Herod the Great and his descendants (37 B.C.–70 A.D.). This period, culminating in the Roman destruction of the Jewish Temple, has a special meaning for Jews; Herodian Jerusalem is also of great interest to Christians. The archaeological finds relating to this period are described so graphically that the reader can almost see the “scorched objects” lying among the ashes of the horrible destruction wrought by the Roman conquerors when they burned the Temple in 70 A.D.
The artifacts from the Second Temple period are unusually impressive. Discovered in the opulent residential area overlooking the Temple Mount, these finds reveal much about the daily life of the wealthy inhabitants of the Western Hill. Stone objects abound, including tables, bowls, cups and purification jars. The latter are reminiscent of the six stone water jars used at the wedding feast of Cana (Gospel of John, ch. 2). The mosaic floors, the painted plaster and the frescoes were all of high quality and well executed. Two especially exciting discoveries of this period were a glass workshop dating to the mid-first century B.C. and a menorah (the seven-branched candelabrum) which was incised on a fragment of plaster. The glass workshop contained evidence of the earliest blown glass ever found; the menorah is the earliest depiction of this ancient Jewish symbol ever discovered.
Chapter Four pales by comparison with the previous chapter; it deals with Aelia Capitolina, the city built by the Romans on the ruins of the Jerusalem they destroyed. The Roman city, however, was limited to the northern section of the city and did not extend as far south as the Jewish Quarter. The only evidence of Roman occupation of this area is of barracks of the Tenth Roman Legion. Incidentally, the emperor Hadrian (117–138 A.D.), who was the architect of Aelia Capitolina, spitefully refused to allow Jews to enter the city.
Chapter Five describes Byzantine Jerusalem (324–638 A.D.), the equivalent of Christian Jerusalem, and includes some of the excavation’s most exciting discoveries. Among these is the cardo maximus, the main north-south street through the city. Several scholars had hoped that the cardo would prove to be Roman; in Avigad’s best judgment, however, it is Byzantine. His conviction is based on some Byzantine ceramics lying under the pavement. The Roman Cardo terminated further north. The existence of the cardo was already well-known before the dig got underway; the Madaba mosaic map of the sixth century A.D., the earliest map of ancient Palestine, depicts it. Now we have a significant segment of it in situ.
The second extraordinary discovery of the Byzantine period is the Nea or New Church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. According to literary sources, this magnificent structure was built by Justinian the Great (527–565 A.D.); if further proof is needed, Avigad found a Greek inscription in the church structure mentioning the name of Emperor Justinian.
Chapter Six is concerned with the Middle Ages, Crusader and Arab Jerusalem. For the most part, this chapter describes Moslem and Crusader architectural remains.
The book ends with a convenient summary of the settlement of the “Upper City” from the eighth century B.C. down to the Arab period.
Discovering Jerusalem is one of the most fascinating archaeological reports I have ever read. Avigad’s enthusiasm is contagious. Some of the book’s contents will not be entirely new to readers of BAR; bits and pieces have appeared intermittently in BAR (“How The Wealthy Lived in Herodian Jerusalem,” BAR 02:04; “Tight-Lipped Archaeologists—How the Press Erred,” BAR 03:02; “Without Avigad’s Pictures—Is the Jerusalem Cardo Roman After All?” BAR 03:04; “Has Jerusalem’s Millo Been Found?” BAR 08:04). And indeed, two adaptations from Discovering Jerusalem appear in this issue. The book, however, presents all the data and correlates the archaeological finds with the ancient literary sources.
Having visited the dig and read the book, I can testify that both are equally exciting.
Jerusalem Cathedra: Studies in the History, Archaeology, Geography and Ethnography of the Land of Israel 2
Edited by Lee I. Levine
(Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi Institute: Jerusalem; Wayne State University Press: Detroit, 1982) 355 pp., $25.00
This book is a collection of articles, most of which were previously published in Hebrew and appear here in English for the first time. The articles are arranged in three major groups: (1) The Ancient Period; (2) The Medieval Period; (3) The Modern Period. BAR readers will probably kind the articles in the first group most interesting. For example, Benjamin Mazar, who led the recent excavations at the Temple Mount, recounts the history of Jerusalem from its founding in the Canaanite Period to its fall in 586 B.C.E. Five articles deal with topics related to the Second Temple Period. Another describes the conflict between Caesarea and Jerusalem in the Byzantine Period as it emerges from the writings of Eusebius.
In “Ancient Ritual Baths (Miqvaot) in Jericho” Ehud Netzer describes the different types of ritual baths uncovered in Jericho and suggests that “the large number of miqvaot at Jericho may … have been related to the abundance of priests in the city during the Second Temple Period, a fact which finds clear expression in the written sources” (p. 118).
An excellent article by Yoram Tsafrir entitled “The Desert Fortresses of Judaea in the Second Temple Period” brings together literary and archaeological evidence describing Hasmonean and Herodian fortresses, such as Alexandrium, Doq, Herodium, Masada, Machaerus and others. The author also supplies an excellent source list and bibliography, all arranged by sites.
An article I found especially interesting is “The History of the Gaza Strip: A Geo-Political and Geo-Strategic Perspective” by Mordechai Gichon, a military historian. In his article, Gichon shows the central place the “Gaza Strip” occupied in military history from pre-Biblical times to the end of World War I.
The volume closes with an extensive bibliography, prepared by Ruth P. Goldschmidt Lehmann, on “Jerusalem in First Temple Times,” which is arranged by topics.
Those interested in the general history of the Near East will kind all these articles excellent. They are well selected and cover a wide variety of topics.
The Holy Land
David Roberts, R.A.
(Terra Sancta Arts Ltd.: Jerusalem, 1982) 360 pp., $120.00 plus $9.50 p/h. The sole U.S. distributor is The Jerusalem Post, 120 East 56th Street, New York, N.Y. 10020.
Yesterday the Holy Land
(Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1982) 144 pp., $16.95
The delicately colored lithographs of David Roberts are among the finest products of the 19th-century European exploration of the Holy Land. In recent years, many of Roberts’s landscapes have appeared individually in books and on calendars, greeting cards and postcards. Now, however, 123 of Roberts’s original lithographs have been reproduced and collected in this single volume. Beside each lithograph is a modern photograph of each location drawn by Roberts. We are also treated to the text of Roberts’s personal journal of his travels through the Holy Land. And all of this is supplemented with historical background.
Roberts’s artistic journey to the Middle East took place in 1839, a time of international tension and of Egyptian military occupation of Syria and Palestine. Mehmet Ali, the renegade viceroy of Egypt, was anxious to gain diplomatic support in the West, and he accordingly provided protection and assistance to many European visitors to the lands under his control. Roberts was one of the beneficiaries of this policy, and the landscapes that he drew during his Middle Eastern travels helped to spur great interest in the lands of the Bible throughout the western world.
Roberts was born in Scotland in 1796. Though apprenticed as a house painter at an early age, he showed a decided preference for more demanding artistic work, eventually becoming a painter of stage scenery, a “scenarist,” as the profession was called in those days. Working for years at the Drury Lane Theatre in London, Roberts eventually gained a wide reputation and amassed considerable wealth. During most of his later career, this financial independence allowed him to travel extensively throughout Europe and the Middle East.
His specialty was landscapes, and the effect of his years in the theater can be plainly seen. Roberts brought the tension of the dramatic stage to his landscapes, implicitly suggesting the mythic or historical events that had taken place at every site. He brought to his views of gloomy Scottish castles and medieval Spanish fortresses a flair for the truly dramatic, as if simply to record what he saw before him was not enough.
Roberts imbued his landscapes of the Holy Land with a similar sense of grandeur—which the contemporary photographs published in this volume show perhaps never really existed. In every comparison between Roberts’s work and that of the camera, the reader sees the same elements in grander proportion, wider angle. Roberts’s crags are craggier, his mountains loftier and more majestic and his ruins more imposing than they seem today.
But the purpose of these Holy Land-scapes was not only to reproduce what was there. Like the other explorers and artists of his times, Roberts had come in search of “Biblical Illustration” and his scenes of daily life, whether of a Bedouin encampment, a merchants’ caravan, rituals in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, or a group of Jewish pilgrims arriving at Jaffa, have the feel of truly Biblical events. In his views of Petra, in particular, his guides have the look more of wandering Israelites than 19th-century Bedouin.
For the most part, the sites that Roberts sketched have not changed greatly, yet some of his landscapes show ruins that have long since disappeared. Ashkelon, Samaria, and Beit Guvrin are shown with imposing Roman structures. But whether the structures were actually as imposing as he rendered them will never be known, for Roberts, in addition to being a scenarist, was a romantic as well. Fascinated by the mystique of ancient ruins, he placed in the foreground of almost all of his landscapes fallen columns, shattered pediments, or other relics of the grandeur of antiquity that had sadly passed.
For those readers who enjoy the landscapes of Roberts and are interested in the history of the Holy Land in the 19th century, this volume offers a wealth of material, though not without some frustrating problems of format. The book, large and heavy, must constantly be turned sideways to be read, for the text and the journal are printed parallel to the spine. Even more awkward is the printing of the larger landscapes on double-page plates, requiring the reader to turn the volume around to read the text and then to turn the page to view the lithograph described.
The idea of reprinting Roberts’s personal journal is a good one, though it too unfortunately suffers from an awkward format. The lithographs have been grouped roughly according to geographical regions, while the journal has been printed in chronological order. The result is that while one is looking at the landscapes of the Lebanese coast, Roberts’s journal is describing his visit to Petra. The only point of correspondence is a bright, shining moment when both Roberts and the reader are together in Nablus, but quickly they part company, and the reader goes on to Petra while the journal proceeds to Beirut.
But the reader who does not need to follow the journal or who enjoys the pure pleasure of Roberts’s artistry might not find such problems serious, for this volume has other rewards. It provides faithful, full-color reproductions of some of the finest landscapes of the Holy Land ever drawn.
For those readers who cannot accommodate either the weight or the cost of the larger edition of The Holy Land by David Roberts, Zondervan Publishing House has offered an alternative. Yesterday the Holy Land is a compact volume containing many of Roberts’s most famous landscapes in an attractive format.
The drawings in this book are arranged according to Biblical themes rather than geographical order, and they are accompanied on each facing page with a brief background description and Biblical quotation. The value of the text and introduction is limited, but the quality of the color reproduction is extremely high.
One note of consumer warning: the jacket cover promises the reader “Over 100 Beautiful Illustrations”—beautiful they are, but there are only 68.
Discovering Jerusalem: Recent Archaeological Excavations in the Upper City
(Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 1983), 268 pp., $24.95