To excavate in the shadow of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, says Meir Ben-Dov, is a gift. As field director since 1968 of the vast archaeological expedition around the Temple Mount, Ben-Dov, working under dig director Benjamin Mazar, has revealed remains of the holy city buried nearly 3,000 years. Scores of destroyed buildings have come to light, and thousands of sacred and prosaic artifacts have been retrieved—from the 10th century B.C., when Solomon built the First Temple, to the 16th century, when the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent ruled the city.
“Excavating in the Shadow of the Temple Mount,” by BAR editor Hershel Shanks, chronicles more than a decade of year-round excavation at the base of the south and west Temple Mount retaining walls. Photos, plans and drawings bring to life Herodian, Byzantine, Turkish, Crusader, Omayyad and Ottoman Jerusalem.
This feast of Jerusalem archaeology continues with Ben-Dov’s “Herod’s Mighty Temple Mount,” an adaptation from his popular new book on the excavation, In the Shadow of the Temple. Focusing on the magnificent Second Temple complex, Ben-Dov reassesses the motives and personality of its famous architect, Herod the Great. For millennia perceived as “a hard-hearted despot” who undertook monumental construction projects for his own glorification, Herod in fact kept his subjects’ needs paramount when he built the Temple, says Ben-Dov. Tens of thousands made pilgrimage to the Temple Mount on Jewish holidays, and Herod “needed to relieve his city of a monstrous traffic jam.” The results of his efforts included the magnificent Temple, a vast esplanade with access tunnels through the 16-foot-thick retaining walls, and imposing staircases for entry and exit.
Ben-Dov is a controversial figure in the Israeli archaeological community. He has excavated at many sites in Israel, and has served as archaeological advisor for Israel’s Ministry of Religious Affairs and for the Nature Reserve Authority. But, unfortunately, a falling-out with Professor Mazar occurred before the dig ended, and there appears to be little hope that a complete final excavation report will be written.
One of the dig’s most exciting discoveries was an inscribed stone that fell from the pinnacle of the Temple Mount’s massive walls onto a Herodian pavement when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Clearly incised Hebrew letters read “(Belonging) to the place (literally, house) of trumpeting to. … ” At that point the eight-foot-long stone was broken, leaving scholars to debate how the phrase should be completed. Ben-Dov offers one suggestion in his excerpt. In “When the Priests Trumpeted the Onset of the Sabbath,” Aaron Demsky gives a very different interpretation, illustrating how epigraphers work in deciphering ancient inscriptions.
Senior lecturer in Biblical history at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, Demsky has excavated at Tel Shiloh, the Israelites’ religious center before Jerusalem. His deciphering of the oldest Hebrew inscription, an abecedary discovered at Izbet Sartah, received worldwide media coverage (see “An Alphabet from the Days of the Judges,” BAR 04:03).
Bible dictionaries are becoming as popular as Biblical encyclopedias and atlases. The publishing boom of these reference works since the 1960s has brought to the public a wealth of new Biblical and archaeological knowledge. In “What Is a Good Bible Dictionary?” Walter Harrelson rates eight current market entries according to their scholarship, their clarity, the quality of their maps, and other important criteria.
Distinguished Professor of Old Testament at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, Harrelson is the author of many books on the Old Testament, notably The Ten Commandments and Human Rights (Fortress Press, 1980) and Interpreting the Old Testament (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1964).
Why did King Mesha of Moab sacrifice his firstborn son—as recounted in 2 Kings 3? How should we understand this appalling act, which led the attacking Israelites to lift their siege of the Moabite capital? New evidence presented by Baruch Margalit in “Why King Mesha of Moab Sacrificed His Oldest Son,” argues that Canaanite religious traditions lay behind the ritual killing.
Associate professor of Bible at Haifa University, Margalit was born in Montreal, Canada, and studied at McGill, Brandeis and Hebrew universities.
Now appearing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is the largest collection of art from Israel ever to travel abroad. BAR’s review, “Ancient Israelite Art Sparse in Impressive Show at Met,” reminds us that great contributions of the mind and spirit are not the stuff of beautiful art. Superb photographs display some of the show’s nearly 200 artifacts.
Books in Brief features Peter Machinist’s review of A History of Ancient Israel and Judah by J. Maxwell Miller and John H. Hayes, and Philip J. King’s review of The Early Biblical Period by Benjamin Mazar. Mazar’s 15 historical essays display, says King, the erudition that accords Mazar “a rightful place beside leading scholars like Albright and Alt.”
To excavate in the shadow of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, says Meir Ben-Dov, is a gift. As field director since 1968 of the vast archaeological expedition around the Temple Mount, Ben-Dov, working under dig director Benjamin Mazar, has revealed remains of the holy city buried nearly 3,000 years. Scores of destroyed buildings have come to light, and thousands of sacred and prosaic artifacts have been retrieved—from the 10th century B.C., when Solomon built the First Temple, to the 16th century, when the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent ruled the city. “Excavating in the Shadow of the Temple Mount,” […]