Like other sites in the southern Levant, Jerusalem’s history was profoundly shaped by its location in the “land between” the African and Eurasian landmasses. The convergence of these two continental plates (the Jordan Valley is the northern extension of the Great Rift Valley) shaped the fractured topography of the Judean hill country with its high ridges, sharp slopes, and deep valleys. The steep terrain is replete with defensible positions for settlements, and the restrictive natural routes along the ridges that crisscross the area allow transportation and communication to be controlled with ease. The downside of this fractured topography is that water is not as easily accessible and that extensive terracing was required to stem soil erosion once the hillsides were stripped of their native forests in order to increase agricultural productivity. Another consequence of the southern Levant’s geographic location, particularly of its location relative to the Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian and Saharan Deserts, is its slightly dry Mediterranean climate. Around Jerusalem precipitation is limited to about 21.7 inches (550 mm) annually, which makes dry-land farming possible; but proximity to a water source was still crucial to an urban center. Finally, with the rise of urban societies in Egypt and Mesopotamia the geopolitical consequences of being in a “land between” came into play as well, and the southern Levant (and Jerusalem with it) was frequently caught up in the rivalries and aspirations of its more powerful neighbors. This geopolitical context was a primary factor in the development of Bronze- and Iron-Age Jerusalem and would lead to the city’s destruction in 586 B.C.E.

From a geographical perspective, Jerusalem was not prime real estate. The southeast hill offered limited visibility of the surrounding area, and the closest thoroughfares are several kilometers distant. These nearest routes were the central ridge that runs north to south from the Benjamin Plateau into the southern hill country and the latitudinal route connecting the Jordan Valley in the east to the Shephelah and Coastal Plain in the west, again via the Benjamin Plateau. Although it inhibited its ability to directly control these routes, Jerusalem’s slight removal from the highways was probably an advantage in troubled times, the absence of natural routes making it harder to surprise the site’s inhabitants and posing logistical problems for sizeable armies. Furthermore, in the right circumstances, Jerusalem’s indirect access to routes running in the four cardinal directions was an important asset and, as history has shown, allowed it to project cultural, economic, political, and sometimes military influence throughout the southern Levant.

The local topography is due in great part to the carbonaceous bedrock underlying the site, which formed as a result of the lithification of marine carbonate deposits from the Cenomanian and Turanian stages of the Upper Paleocene, between 99.6 and 93.5 million years ago. This bedrock is composed of two formations, sloping eastward, the lower of which is the hard mizzi ahmar dolomite. Above the mizzi ahmar is the meleke formation, consisting of a softer limestone, which was particularly prized as a construction material in premodern times since it is relatively easy to shape when first extracted from the ground but gradually hardens as it draws carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide. As a result of the eastward slope in these lithic formations, the upper meleke limestone is thicker on the southeastern hill and much less plentiful on the southwestern hill, where the harder dolomite substratum is closer to the surface. Since the exposed meleke bedrock offered both building materials and a firm foundation, tell-like accumulation was inhibited naturally throughout antiquity: when new buildings were constructed, remains of earlier settlement were often removed in order to secure new foundations in the bedrock. Because the limestone and (to a slightly lesser degree) the dolomite are also prone to dissolution under the effect of percolating groundwater, natural cavities form in it quite readily, which were exploited extensively in antiquity for tunneling, quarrying, and interment.

The carbonaceous bedrock’s susceptibility to dissolution also resulted in the formation of the peculiar Gihon Spring, which is a syphon-type karstic spring with an intermittent flow of roughly 184,920 to 1,254,817 gallons (700–4,750 m3) of water per day. The fact that the Gihon did not have a constant output made it necessary to capture its water in pools. This, combined with the spring’s vulnerable position at the bottom of the Kidron Valley, led to ambitious hydrological engineering when Jerusalem’s size expanded in the Middle Bronze II and again in the Iron IIB.

At its height in the eighth to seventh centuries B.C.E., Jerusalem covered two hills. The southeastern hill (or “City of David”) constituted the core of Bronze- and Iron-Age Jerusalem. This hill continued to the north through a slight depression known by the biblical name of Ophel, beyond which lies the Haram el-Sharif (or Temple Mount), an area now covered by the Herodian Platform, constructed in the first century B.C.E. The southeastern hill is a roughly triangular rocky spur, oriented north–south, and measures about 760 ft (230 m) wide at its wider northern end, from which it tapers gradually toward the south over 2,100 ft (640 m), sloping gently on the way until it joins the Hinnom Valley, which marks its southern border. On the east, the southeastern hill is bordered by the Kidron Valley and the Gihon Spring, the latter situated more or less beneath the highest point on the southeastern hill. The historical preference for settlement on the southeastern hill can be attributed in part to this proximity to the Gihon and to the fact that no water sources exist in close proximity to the southwestern hill. The latter is bounded on the north by the small Transversal Valley, on the south and west by the Hinnom Valley, and by the Tyropoeon Valley to the east (which separates it from the southeastern hill). As far as is known the southwestern hill was not settled until the eighth century B.C.E.

Archaeological excavations on the southeast hill and in the Kidron Valley have revealed unequivocal evidence that Jerusalem was occupied in the Early Bronze I, in the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, and from the twelfth to early sixth centuries B.C.E. Additionally, evidence from the western hill (and particularly from the Jewish Quarter) points to an unprecedented expansion of the city limits in the late Iron Age, in the centuries preceding the destruction of the city by Nebuchadrezzar II (r. ca. 605–562 B.C.E.) in 586 B.C.E. While there is a consensus regarding the size and regional prominence of Jerusalem in the Middle Bronze II and eighth to seventh centuries B.C.E, the extent and nature of occupation in the Late Bronze to Iron IIA continues to be hotly debated. Although the Deuteronomistic historian and the later Chronicler describe Jerusalem as a thriving, cosmopolitan urban center in the tenth century B.C.E., archaeologists disagree as to whether the biblical picture is reflected by the available material remains. To a certain degree this disagreement can be traced to the ongoing debate concerning the dating of Iron-IIA pottery, which at Jerusalem means that some remains are dated to the tenth century B.C.E. by some and to the ninth by others. More generally, though, the evidence for monumental architecture and fortifications—both hallmarks of a thriving urban center such as that which appears to be described in the biblical sources—is simply not as certain in the tenth century B.C.E. as it is in the Middle Bronze II and the eighth to sixth centuries B.C.E.

Early-Bronze Remains.

Jerusalem was in all likelihood a minor village in this period. The modest nature of the architecture, tombs, and associated mobilia discovered in Jerusalem all point to an Early Bronze–I settlement operating in a chiefly subsistence economy and consisting of perhaps no more than several family compounds. Two buildings of the broad-room type were built on bedrock, on the southeastern slope of the southeast hill, and were found well preserved beneath the Middle Bronze–Age city wall by Yigal Shiloh’s excavations in Area Shiloh E1. These structures of the “broad-room” type, well known from Arad and Khirbat et-Tel, are rectangular in plan, with an entrance through the long wall and low benches lining the single room inside.

This evidence for permanent settlement is supplemented by the discovery of three Early Bronze–I tombs halfway down the southeast hill’s eastern slope, above the Gihon Spring. There is no architectural evidence that Jerusalem was inhabited during the Early Bronze II–III. Some pottery dating to this period was discovered in secondary depositional contexts by the expeditions led by Robert Macalister, Kathleen Kenyon, and Shiloh. Eilat Mazar’s excavations in the City of David visitor center (2005–2007) discovered Early Bronze–II to –III pottery in fissures within the bedrock. In the absence of architectural remains from the Early Bronze II to III, one can only speculate as to whether this pottery arrived at the site as a result of permanent occupation or by other means (e.g., as waste from the campsites of pastoral nomads or caravans). Material from the Middle Bronze I is also scarce and limited to a few shaft tombs.

Middle Bronze–Age Remains.

RŠLMM (possibly vocalized as “Rushalumim”) is mentioned among the enemies of Egypt in two sets of eighteenth-century B.C.E. Middle Kingdom ritual incantations, known as the Execration Texts. These texts, written in ink on bowls and anthropomorphic clay figurines which appear to have been ritually shattered, are divided into an earlier group of texts called the Berlin group (of unknown provenance) and a later group discovered at Sakkara. The inclusion of Jerusalem in the list of Egyptian enemies of the state reveals that Jerusalem was a city-state in its own right during the Middle Bronze II, corroborating the archaeological evidence.

The fortification of Jerusalem and of its water source demonstrates the city leaders’ desire to protect themselves from siege warfare, which fits the Middle Bronze–II zeitgeist reflected in other heavily fortified urban centers throughout the region, from Ashkelon on the southern Mediterranean coast all the way to sites like Tell Muazaar at the headwaters of the Khabur River in Syria. As at other Middle Bronze–II fortified sites in Jerusalem’s vicinity, including Gezer, Tell Rumeida/Hebron, and Tell Balata/Shechem, the public works on and near the southeast hill reflect sharp social hierarchization, as well the ability of the city’s elites to mobilize large amounts of labor.

The first evidence of fortification and urbanism at Jerusalem consists of a city wall that was built with cyclopean masonry on the eastern slope of the southeast hill and of extensive built and hewn structures around the Gihon Spring. Besides the public works, the only evidence for Middle Bronze–II occupation at Jerusalem consists of sparse architectural remains, mobilia, and several tombs in the hills around the city. Some of these remains reflect the wealth of the urban elite which no doubt ruled Jerusalem at this time, such as the rich tomb near the Dominus Flevit Church on the Mount of Olives and engraved bone inlays that were discovered on the southeast hill by Shiloh.

The Middle Bronze–II city wall followed a north–south line along the eastern flank of the southeast hill. The wall takes advantage of the hill’s topography, resting at the top of a natural scarp in the bedrock, halfway down the slope to the Kidron below. The wall is 6.6 to 9.8 ft (2–3 m) in width and was exposed for a length of 137.8 ft (42 m). At its southern end, the Middle Bronze–II wall was dismantled in the Iron II. Some of the boulders from the Middle Bronze–II wall were reused in the construction of the later city wall dating to the Iron II, which followed the same line. In the earliest phase the Middle Bronze–IIA wall was 9.8 ft (3 m) thick and built of cyclopean stones (or boulders). In the second phase the wall was partially thickened by the addition of a buttress running along the inner face. Finally, traces of a third architectural phase were visible among the half-dozen smaller walls to the west of the city wall, but the main line of fortifications was not, it seems, modified at that time.

Jerusalem, Bronze and Iron Age

Silaom tunnel inscription. Kim Walton, courtesy of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum

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Another instance of public works is found at the site of the Gihon Spring in the Kidron Valley, east of the southeast hill. These consist of a fortified corridor that was built to protect those approaching the spring from the hilltop, in addition to channels and a pool cut into the bedrock in order to collect and distribute the waters of the Gihon. In the earliest phase of the Middle Bronze II the Gihon Spring was accessed via the fortified corridor that ran down from the top of the southeast hill to the “Spring Tower.” This tower boasts walls some 19.7 to 23 ft (6–7 m) thick, with outside dimensions of 55.8 by 52.5 ft (17 by 16 m) and an inside room measuring 32.8 by 16.4 ft (10 by 5 m). The stones that make up the structure average 4.9 by 6.6 by 3.3 ft (1.5 by 2 by 1 m) in size and weigh between 3.3 and 4.4 tons (3 and 4 metric tons). The largest of the boulders discovered in the tower’s foundations measures 10.5 ft (3.2 m) in length.

The channels and pool consist of the so-called channel II, tunnel III, and Rock-Cut Pool. Channel II is a deep groove that was cut into the bedrock along the eastern slope of the southeast hill and runs south from the Gihon for 623.4 ft (190 m), bringing water to the southern end of the southeast hill. Tunnel III runs out of the eastern side of channel II a few meters south of the Gihon Spring and connects to the Rock-Cut Pool. The pool measures 52.5 by 32.8 ft (16 by 10 m) at the top and narrows to a basin in the northeast corner, where it reaches a maximum depth of 45.9 ft (14 m) over an area of 14.8 by 11.5 ft (4.5 by 3.5 m).

Late Bronze–Age Remains.

Jerusalem is mentioned in the royal archive at the Egyptian site of El-Amarna (ancient Akhetaten), which dates to the fourteenth century B.C.E. and the reign of Amenhotep IV (also known as Akhenaten, r. 1379–1362 B.C.E.) and contains no fewer than six letters to the pharaoh from a certain Abdi-hepa, the governor of the Canaanite city of Urushalim. The apparent regional prominence of Jerusalem/Urushalim as it is described in the Amarna correspondence has often been seen to conflict with the relatively sparse remains from the Late Bronze II that are attested at the site archaeologically. In considering the lack of monumental Late-Bronze remains at Jerusalem, a useful analog is Late-Bronze Gezer, whose ruler, Milk-ilu, also entertained correspondence with Amenhotep IV; and yet the archaeological exploration of Gezer has yielded only modest Late-Bronze remains.

In response to the apparent discrepancy between the historical and archaeological data, some have suggested that Late-Bronze Jerusalem was located at a different site entirely and not on the southeast hill like the RŠLMM of the Middle Bronze II or Iron-Age Yerushalayim. This theory, which never garnered a large following, was more or less put to rest by the discovery in 2009 of a probable fragment of Abdi-hepa’s correspondence. The inscription in question (dubbed “Jerusalem 1” since it is the first cuneiform document recovered at the site) is extremely fragmentary, with only 15 signs preserved and only a few readable words. All the same, Wayne Horowitz concluded from his analysis of the fragment that the cuneiform script of Jerusalem 1 is very similar to that in the El-Amarna correspondence from Abdi-hepa and could have been produced by the same scribe. Moreover, provenance analysis confirmed that the tablet was made of local Judean terra-rossa clay, raising the likelihood that Jerusalem 1 was an archived copy of a letter sent to Egypt. If these interpretations are correct, then the discovery of Jerusalem 1 confirms that Late-Bronze Jerusalem was located where one would expect it to be, at the same site as the preceding Middle Bronze–II and subsequent Iron-Age city.

There is also more tangible evidence for occupation at Jerusalem in the time of the Amarna letters, corresponding to the second half of the Late Bronze. Tombs at Dominus Flevit and Naḥalat Aḥim yielded fourteenth- and thirteenth-century B.C.E. material roughly contemporaneous to the Amarna letters. At the City of David itself, occupation is evidenced by wall fragments and associated floors and thresholds, all securely dated to the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries B.C.E. by stratigraphy and associated ceramics.

Some scholars question whether or not the city was fortified in this period. Some argue that since no Late-Bronze material was discovered near the Gihon Spring or next to the city walls, these areas were not in use. At the same time, there is no evidence for the destruction or collapse of any of these structures. The city wall, 9.8 ft (3 m) thick and built as it was, cannot have simply toppled over by itself. Since the first materials covering the wall’s remains date to the Iron II, it may be assumed that the Middle-Bronze city walls remained more or less intact and that Jerusalem in the Late Bronze, Iron I, and Iron IIA was fortified.

Iron Age–I Remains.

The most significant architectural remains dating to the late second millennium B.C.E., and by far the most contentious, are the Stepped Stone Structure and more recent Large Stone Structure. The Stepped Stone Structure consists of 54 courses of overlapping, stepped limestone boulders that rise up the eastern slope of the southeast hill at a roughly 45-degree angle, to the top of the hill. Extensive exploration and probing of the Stepped Stone Structure over the years has revealed that the distinctive stepped boulder mantle was laid onto a “core” of stone rubble and that this rubble core, in turn, rests on a series of terraces running parallel to the slope. There has been lively debate over whether the terracing and mantle were built simultaneously or whether they are the result of multiple discrete phases of activity spanning several centuries. The former explanation is supported by the fact that the upper courses of the Stepped Stone Structure are bonded to the eastern wall of the Large Stone Structure at the top of the slope, which provides a clear reason for the construction of the Stepped Stone Structure—namely, that it was intentionally built to serve as a massive plinth and foundation for the outer walls of the Large Stone Structure.

The Large Stone Structure is a partially preserved monumental structure (possibly a palace or a fort). The most impressive of its walls—Wall 20, which is bonded to the Stepped Stone Structure—was exposed for a length of 12.1 ft (3.7 m), is built of rather large fieldstones, and is preserved to a width of 9.8 ft (3 m) and a height of 8.2 ft (2.5 m). The plan of the Large Stone Structure remains unclear, and the reconstruction proposed by E. Mazar, a large palace with small rooms surrounding an inner court, is largely hypothetical since the walls it joins together are fragmentarily preserved and vary greatly in size, in quality of construction, and even in orientation. A more conservative interpretation has been put forth by both Amihai Mazar and Avi Faust, which recognizes the existence of an early monumental structure in this area based on Wall 20, while allowing that some of the other walls in E. Mazar’s reconstruction may date to a later period.

The bonding between the top of the Stepped Stone Structure and Wall 20 of the Large Stone Structure indicates that they were constructed simultaneously, implementing a single architectural plan for a monumental structure at the top of the northern end of the southeast hill. Although E. Mazar dates this building to the Iron IIA, A. Mazar and Faust convincingly argue that the evidence is more in favor of a date in the Iron I.

In the Iron I, as in the Late Bronze, one must assume that the Middle Bronze–II fortifications were still in place as well. All these fortifications, along with the scattered Iron-I material found elsewhere on the site, provide a suitable setting for the Jebusite city that appears to have been quite a nuisance to the Israelite element of the hill country’s population in the premonarchic period (e.g., Josh 15:63; Judg 1:8, 21). Furthermore, following A. Mazar and Faust, the location and size of the Stepped Stone Structure and Large Stone Structure make it possible that together they constitute the Jebusite “stronghold of Zion,” whose capture by David is recorded in 2 Samuel 5:7.

The Tenth to Ninth Centuries B.C.E.

The archaeological remains from tenth- to ninth-century B.C.E. Jerusalem are ambiguous, and they neither support nor disprove the historicity of the biblical traditions concerning the city’s role under David and Solomon (1 Kgs 9—10). What is very clear, however, is that the southeastern hill was occupied continuously in this period since almost every excavation in this area has produced pottery from the Iron IIA. Some of the finds may be from the tenth century B.C.E., but there is more of a consensus concerning the ninth century B.C.E. A number of finds (on the Ophel and near the Gihon) indicate that by the second half of the ninth century B.C.E. at the very latest Jerusalem had acquired at least some of the trappings of an urban center, including monumental architecture and the administrative apparatus necessary to gather and harness agricultural surplus and wealth.

It is still difficult to locate specific architectural remains that were constructed, rather than simply used, in the tenth century B.C.E.; but there are several possible candidates. On the east slope of the southeastern hill some partially preserved mud-brick installations were discovered immediately above bedrock, along with two pottery chalices and the lower half of a cultic stand. These finds prompted Shiloh to speculate that a cultic “corner” may have been situated at this spot. Jane Cahill has argued for the existence of a tenth-century B.C.E. substratum in the area of the Stepped Stone Structure, including intact floors with Iron-IIA pottery. Tenth-century B.C.E. occupation is also attested northwest of the southeast hill in rooms discovered by Kenyon. Kenyon considered the succession of rooms in Area H to be a casemate wall. At the very least, Kenyon’s finds are significant inasmuch as they suggest that Jerusalem had already begun its expansion beyond the southeast hill proper early in the Iron-II period.

Fragmentary architectural remains from the ninth century were uncovered on the slope overlooking the Gihon Spring. The structures were built into earlier quarries that provided footholds on the otherwise steep slope. A couple of small caves in the slope were discovered behind (or west of) these poorly constructed homes and were apparently used for storage or for waste disposal. Excavation of the caves provided a large assemblage of vessels that can be confidently associated with the houses nearby and indicate domestic activities (especially food preparation and consumption). A talus that runs over these remains contained eighth-century pottery, making it likely that this small barrio was abandoned around the end of the ninth century B.C.E.

Jerusalem, Bronze and Iron Age

Fortifications surrounding the Gihon Spring. Baker Photo Archive

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Excavations of late ninth- and eighth-century B.C.E. fills in the Kidron Valley near the Gihon Spring revealed two amazing assemblages of bullae and some seals dating to these periods. The pottery from the earliest of these fills (discovered beneath eighth-century B.C.E. walls at the bottom of the Middle Bronze–II Rock-Cut Pool) has not been published, but R. Reich reports that a preliminary assessment by scholars of different chronological persuasions reached a consensus of about 800 B.C.E. If it holds up to closer scrutiny, this date is very significant because 180 bullae were discovered during the wet sifting of the fills, and the bullae are distinguished as an assemblage by the complete absence of western Semitic scripts. Among the imagery present on the bullae are representations of palmette capitals and Phoenician ships, while the writing is limited to (possible) hieroglyphs. This unique and distinctive collection of early bullae indicates that by 800 B.C.E., in other words in the late ninth century B.C.E., the ruling class of Jerusalem had developed an administrative apparatus similar to that attested by the later bullae of the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E.

The Ophel Structures.

Despite the prominence of the Haram al-Sharif (or Temple Mount in the biblical tradition), direct archaeological evidence from the northeast hill is lacking as a result of the present political sensitivity of the region. Still, Gabriel Barkay and Tzachi Zweig’s wet sifting of the rubble from the Waqf’s construction projects inside the Herodian Platform has yielded some Iron-IIA ceramics.

North of the southeastern hill and just south of the Haram al-Sharif, in the area referred to by the biblical name Ophel, a number of buildings dating to the late ninth or early eighth century B.C.E. were brought to light. Two of these, Buildings C and D, were built side by side. Building C is the southernmost of the two structures and consists of two well-preserved rooms on the south side that are separated by a corridor from two other parallel rooms to the northeast, of which only parts of the foundations are preserved. The southern corner of Building C is built of rectangular ashlars and was preserved to a height of 16.4 ft (5 m). A destruction layer dating to 586/87 B.C.E. was discovered in the corner room, along with the remains of over 40 storage jars, some of which originally sat in the structure’s upper story. Below the destruction in this room and below the corridor were found several superimposed fill layers, the earliest of which dates to the Iron IIA. Benjamin Mazar and E. Mazar identified Building C as a four-chambered gate, based on its parallel structure and dimensions which are nearly identical to a contemporaneous palace gate at Megiddo. Not all scholars agree that this structure was a gate, with criticism focusing on the poor preservation of the two northern rooms and on the fact that the “chambers” are partially closed off to the central corridor, which is quite unusual (although gates with partially closed chambers are known from Beersheba II and Khirbat En-Naḥas).

To the northeast of Building C is Building D, although the relationship of the two structures is unfortunately obscured by a gap of several meters that is due to later activity in the area. The eastern corner of Building D is the best preserved, and the two walls composing this corner are also preserved to a height of 16.4 ft (5 m) and joined in the header–stretcher fashion typical of Jerusalem’s Iron-II architecture. The rest of the building’s walls are built of medium-sized, roughly dressed stones along with smaller filler stones. Two long rooms were preserved intact against the northern outer wall, and these rooms also revealed evidence of the early sixth-century destruction of the city, with subfloor fills containing pottery from the eighth to seventh centuries. Of particular note are the cylindrical pithoi (large storage jars) that were discovered in the corner room of Building D and in the partially preserved long room across the hallway to the southwest. A total of 12 pithoi were found, one of which bore a partial inscription on its shoulder, reading LSRHʿW, which E. Mazar reconstructed as LSRHʿWPYM or “(belonging) to the minister of the bakery.” E. Mazar suggested on this basis that the preserved portion of Building D is a palace basement, although that it was a public storehouse seems just as likely.

E. Mazar has argued that these structures and the two towers to the east date to the tenth century B.C.E., based on a preliminary assessment of the ceramic evidence from excavations in 2009. These excavations have produced at least two fill layers full of Iron-IIA pottery. Until the final publications are available, caution mandates that Buildings C and D be dated to the ninth century, the original date ascribed to them by both E. Mazar and B. Mazar after the 1986–1987 excavations.

The United Monarchy.

When comparing the biblical stories of the tenth century B.C.E. with the archaeological discoveries, several reconstructions are possible. A maximalist reading of the tenth century B.C.E. is provided by the work of E. Mazar. She dates the construction of the monumental Large Stone Structure to the early tenth century B.C.E. based upon her discovery of Iron-IIA pottery recovered beneath a floor and wall on the northern side. If one accepts these arguments, then the Large Stone Structure and Stepped Stone Structure are to be attributed to the early tenth century B.C.E. (and possibly to the activities of Phoenician craftspeople; see 2 Sam 5:11). Furthermore, since E. Mazar dates the buildings on the Ophel to the latter part of the tenth century B.C.E., her maximalist view of Jerusalem in the early Iron IIA is of an urban center characterized by monumental construction projects that fully corroborates the historicity of the United Monarchy tradition that is preserved in Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles.

The alternative interpretations of E. Mazar’s finds lead to more modest reconstructions of tenth-century B.C.E. Jerusalem. For Faust, A. Mazar, and others who date the Large Stone Structure and Stepped Stone Structure to the eleventh century B.C.E., there are no clear archaeological correlates to the monumental construction projects described in 2 Samuel 5:11 and 1 Kings 9–10. In this view David appropriated the preexisting “stronghold of Zion” (2 Sam 5:7) and ruled his fledgling Judahite state from a fortified but otherwise modest Jerusalem. Another interpretative option has been defended by Israel Finkelstein. In Finkelstein’s estimation the Stepped Stone and Large Stone Structures are nothing more than palimpsests of architectural remains dating from the Iron I to the Hellenistic period. While Finkelstein’s position is perhaps overzealous, it does illustrate the range of interpretations. Still, even if no monumental architecture was built on the ridge of the southwestern hill in the early Iron IIA, it is now beyond question that the entire southwestern hill was settled in this period.

The Eighth to Sixth Centuries B.C.E.

In this period the city continued to occupy the southeast hill, the Haram al-Sharif, as well as the Ophel between the two, as it arguably already had in the Iron IIA. In contrast to earlier periods, the evidence for settlement on the east slope of the southeast hill is truly extensive; and for the first time occupation is attested, in the form of domestic structures and fortifications, on the southwest hill and particularly under the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. The exact dating and causes for the expansion of the city in the eighth century B.C.E. are disputed, as is the intensity of settlement in the seventh century B.C.E.

The southeastern hill.

Remains dating to the Iron IIB were found all across the eastern slope of the southeast hill, consisting of residential neighborhoods enclosed behind two wall systems, one in the Kidron Valley bed and the other halfway up the east slope. The eighth century B.C.E. also witnessed major construction projects related to the Gihon Spring.

“Lower-class” neighborhoods of the eighth century B.C.E.

The residential areas on the lower half of the east slope were quite modest and were abandoned around the end of the eighth century B.C.E. Structures with flimsy rectilinear walls were built onto old quarries in the bedrock, with floors attesting to domestic activity. The inhabitants apparently made use of adjoining caves as storage areas. Of particular note in this respect is cave 1, which yielded an unusually high proportion (9.2 percent) of religious/cultic objects (including 87 broken figurines, a couple of rattles, chalices, and an incense stand), a reflection of the combination of domestic activities and “household religion.” Farther south fragmentary remains of another modest residential area were discovered; but erosion along the slope badly damaged the architecture, and only the lowest courses of stone foundations were recovered. The domestic function and eighth-century B.C.E. date of these buildings is clear, however, from their layout and contents (ceramic vessels and figurines, loom weights, bone spatulas, and abundant faunal remains).

“Upper-class” residential-administrative neighborhoods.

Up the slope, the layout and quality of the construction set the homes apart. The largest of the eighth-century B.C.E. homes in this affluent residential quarter, the so-called Lower Terrace House, sits against the inner face of the city wall and consists of three parallel spaces on a north–south axis. Inside these rooms a storage jar with the inscription LMHMM (“belonging to MHMM”) probably referred to the owner of the house. This neighborhood demonstrates a high degree of urban planning, with common terrace foundations (which rely on the city wall itself for support), a stepped alleyway that runs between two of the structures, and a plastered, covered drainage channel that runs 36.1 ft (11 m) through the residential quarter and out through the city wall. A hint as to how labor was recruited for the construction of the city wall is found in the fact that the walls of the homes closest to the city wall are constructionally bonded to it. Whoever built the wall, presumably an activity with royal support, also constructed these homes.

In the seventh century B.C.E., renovations were made to the neighborhood. Two of the residences in the southwestern part of the area went out of use in this period because of the construction nearby of a large (perhaps public) structure known as the Ashlar House, after the large roughly dressed stone blocks in its walls.

Jerusalem, Bronze and Iron Age

Bullae bearing Hebrew names from the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E. Zev Radovan /

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Farther north two substantial foundational terraces were built between the Stepped Stone Structure and the mid-slope wall to the east, the upper one measuring 8.6 ft (27 m) long and 39.4 ft (12 m) wide and laying over the lower courses of the Stepped Stone Structure. The uppermost terrace served as the foundation for two structures referred to as the House of Ahiel (the southernmost, the name Ahiel is written on two ostraca that were found in and near the house) and the Burnt Room. In addition to rich assemblages dating to the destruction of the city in 586, these structures are distinguished by a stone toilet which was found in situ over a deep cesspit in the House of Ahiel. On the next terrace level down (an elevation offset of 16.4 ft [5 m]) was the House of Bullae, so named because of the amazing discovery of 51 bullae dating to the late seventh to sixth centuries B.C.E. Among the officials named in the bullae is a “Gemariah son of Shaphan,” who is known from Jeremiah 36:9–12 to have served in the fifth year of King Jehoiakim, or 604 B.C.E. Terraces such as these evidently continued down the slope for quite a ways.

North and west of the structures at the foot of the Stepped Stone Structure lay a pile of collapsed ashlar masonry, including a Proto-Aeolic capital. These lay at the foot of a scarp which is overlooked by the earlier Large Stone Structure of the Iron I. The ashlars and especially the capital are typical of Iron-II public architecture at the sites of Megiddo, Samaria, Hazor, and nearby Ramat Rahel; and their discovery near the highest point of the southeast hill suggests that an administrative building of the eighth (or even ninth) century B.C.E. was located there.

The southeastern hill fortifications.

The main city wall of the southeast hill in the Iron IIB was situated halfway up the slope from the Kidron, measured 16.4 ft (5 m) wide, and followed the same scarp as the earlier Middle Bronze–II city wall. This wall was discovered running the entire length of Shiloh’s Area E, where it was architecturally bonded to structures like the lower terrace. The northern end of the wall used the lower courses of the Middle Bronze–II wall as a foundation, while farther to the south the Middle Bronze–II wall was completely dismantled in the Iron IIB and some of the cyclopean masonry of the Middle Bronze–II wall was reused alongside the smaller fieldstones that were preferred by the Iron-Age builders. At the bottom of the slope, in the Kidron Valley, another city wall 6.6 ft (2 m) wide was discovered. These finds demonstrate that the “lower-class” residential neighborhoods on the lower east slope of the southeast hill were intramural. Several meters to the east of the Kidron Wall, yet another wall was partially uncovered, with channel I of the Iron-II waterworks running between them. Further excavation is needed to understand why not one but two Iron-IIB walls were built at the bottom of the Kidron, which would have been a difficult position to defend.

Hezekiah’s Tunnel.

The most impressive architectural monument to eighth-century B.C.E. Jerusalem is the Siloam Tunnel (or Hezekiah’s Tunnel), a winding underground channel that was hewn out of the bedrock over a distance of 1,748.7 ft (533 m). At a grade of only 0.6 percent, the tunnel carried the waters of the gushing Gihon all the way to the Siloam Pool, which was situated south and west of the southeast hill. The tunnel was among several Iron-IIB modifications and extensions of the preexisting Middle Bronze–II waterworks, including renovations to the Spring Tower, that were meant to ensure the city’s water supply in the event of a siege. By carrying the water of the Gihon to the western side of the southeast hill, the planners of the Siloam Tunnel were not only bringing water within the city walls but also making it much more accessible for the residents of the newly founded settlements across the Tyropoeon Valley. Based on excavations around the Gihon, Reich has proposed a sequence of events that explains the shape of the Siloam Tunnel. Reich’s most innovative suggestion holds that channel I, of which the bottom elevation is identical to that of the tunnel’s floor, was cut in order to serve as an external level for the tunnel, ensuring that the teams cutting the tunnel from either end stayed at the same elevation. The meeting of these two teams in the middle of the tunnel was vividly described in the Siloam Inscription, which was incised on the wall near the southern end of the tunnel in Paleo-Hebrew script.

It has traditionally been held that the Siloam Tunnel was built by King Hezekiah (r. ca. 715–686 B.C.E.) in preparation for Sennacherib’s (r. 704–681 B.C.E.) campaign against Judah at the close of the eighth century B.C.E., on account of passages such as 2 Kings 20:20 and 2 Chronicles 32:2–4 and 32:30. Based on their excavations, however, Reich and Eli Shukron argue that the date of the tunnel’s cutting should be moved back to the late ninth or early eighth century B.C.E. because of the discovery of late ninth- to early eighth-century B.C.E. fills at the bottom of the Middle Bronze–II Rock-Cut Pool, a structure which was presumably in use until the completion of the Siloam Tunnel cut off its water supply. If this withstands scrutiny, Reich and Shukron’s argument will have important ramifications for the understanding of Iron-II Jerusalem’s expansion (by raising the date for the city wall protecting the Siloam Pool) and for Iron-Age paleography (by raising the date of the Siloam inscription).

The southwestern hill.

During the Iron IIB the southwestern hill was occupied for the first time in Jerusalem’s history. Two phases of domestic occupation were identified, one preceding and the other following the construction and use of the Broad Wall. The first phase was built immediately on bedrock (marked by earlier quarrying) and featured domestic structures as well as indications of agricultural activity in the form of a plastered press or storage vat for liquids. This initial phase of settlement can be broadly dated to the eighth century based on the absence of the distinctive pottery styles of the earlier tenth to ninth and later seventh to sixth centuries B.C.E. and more specifically to the period preceding Hezekiah’s revolt, based on the absence of LMLK seal impressions. This first eighth-century B.C.E. phase was terminated by the construction of the Broad Wall, and apparently not too long afterward that fortification was itself dismantled and the area once again occupied by domestic structures. The preserved courses of the Broad Wall were found beneath a partial floor, earth fills, and wall stubs all dated to the seventh to sixth centuries B.C.E. by pottery.

Domestic remains were also exposed during excavations in the Armenian Garden in the southwest corner of the Old City (south of the Citadel). Along with the poorly preserved architecture are signs of extensive quarrying that dates to probably the eighth century B.C.E. The difficulty in dating such remains means that a more protracted period of quarrying extending back into the tenth century B.C.E. or even earlier is conceivable (although unlikely based on the absence of pottery types preceding the Iron IIB). The architectural remains in the Armenian Garden consist of damaged terrace walls, patchy plaster floors, and a couple of bread ovens, which are dated by associated fills containing jar handles with LMLK seal impressions indicating that settlement here began at the latest in the late eighth century B.C.E. These architectural and quarrying remains may reflect a common process in which the quarrying and settlement of the city’s margins took place in relatively quick succession or even simultaneously.

The first and earliest of the fortifications of the southwestern hill are represented by the massive Broad Wall that was found between two phases of domestic occupation in Area A. This wall was exposed for a total length of 213.3 ft (65 m), and it appears to have been built to circumvent a depression in the hill’s topography to the north, probably to avoid a weak point in the defenses. The result is that the eastern end of the wall runs for 147.6 ft (45 m) northeast to southwest, after which the wall turns and heads due west for another 65.6 ft (20 m). Most of the wall was built with hard dolomite fieldstones measuring about 1.6 ft (0.5 m) in diameter, although larger rectangular limestone blocks may have been quite common in the (very poorly preserved) superstructure. The wall is between 19.7 and 23 ft (6 and 7 m) wide, and its preserved height including foundations is 13.1 ft (4 m; the wall’s original height aboveground, based on its width, can be estimated at 26.2 ft [8 m]). A final noteworthy feature is a 1.6 ft (0.5 m) offset in the wall, in which rectangular blocks were laid in header–stretcher fashion, as is typical of corners in Jerusalem’s Iron-II monumental architecture.

At the same time that the Broad Wall was dismantled and covered by domestic structures of the late eighth or early seventh century, a new line of fortifications was built farther north. This time the architects were not concerned about the slight valley that the Broad Wall sought to avoid, and all evidence indicates that this later line of fortifications on the northern side of the southwestern hill ran east to west in a straight line. In one area, Nahman Avigad uncovered the corner of what is either a tower or a gate, possibly the “middle gate” of Jeremiah 39:3. The foundations of this cornered structure could not be dated more specifically than the eighth to seventh centuries B.C.E. The tower itself, of which two walls are partially preserved beneath later Hellenistic fortifications, was constructed of uncut dolomite boulders with smaller stones filling the gaps; and it stands to a maximum height of 26.2 ft (8 m, or 15–16 courses). As with the offset in the Broad Wall and the corners in Buildings C and D from the Ophel, the corner of the tower was built using rectangular blocks laid header–stretcher style.

Other very fragmentary remains of Iron-II masonry which probably belonged to the city’s fortifications were uncovered in excavations beneath the Citadel near the Jaffa Gate and on Mount Zion (at the southern end of the southwestern hill). Together with the discoveries in the Jewish Quarter, the picture is of a southwestern hill which was fortified on its northern, western, and southern sides by the late eighth century at the latest and possibly sometime earlier. Presumably, these fortifications then crossed the Tyropoeon Valley in order to connect with the walls protecting the southwestern hill (and Siloam Pool) on the south.

Jerusalem, Bronze and Iron Age

Stepped Stone Structure. Zev Radovan /

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The Broad Wall, the first known fortification to protect the southwestern hill, has traditionally been attributed to King Hezekiah’s preparations against Sennacherib’s campaign to Judah in 701 B.C.E. (e.g., 2 Chr 32:5). As a result, the later line of fortifications is usually dated to the seventh century B.C.E., to the reign of Manasseh (r. ca. 686–642 B.C.E.) or one of his successors. An alternative scheme dates the Broad Wall to the mid-eighth century B.C.E. and relegates the subsequent fortifications either to the period of Hezekiah’s ill-fated revolt or to the early seventh century B.C.E. Reich and Shukron’s proposed modifications to the dating of the Siloam Tunnel may lend new weight to the earlier date.

Extramural Activities.

The tombs outside the ancient city limits provide a unique window into the city’s society. Significantly, B. Mazar excavated shaft tombs on the eastern slope of the southwestern hill, opposite the Haram el-Sharif/Temple Mount, which yielded material dated to the eighth century B.C.E. but nothing from the seventh to sixth centuries B.C.E. This tomb, abandoned sometime after the rise of Iron-IIB ceramic traditions, may provide a chronological clue as to when the southwestern hill was included within the “official” fortified city limits.

The tombs most often discussed are “bench tombs” belonging to the city’s elites, which typically include a subterranean central chamber leading to one or more burial rooms, where the deceased were laid on a bench hewn from the bedrock. Nearby alcoves received burial kits as well as the deceased’s bones, and it is such alcoves which usually contain the pottery used to date the tomb, as well as exceptional grave goods such as the Ketef Hinnom amulets. In contrast to these elite tombs, the majority of Jerusalem’s population in the Iron IIB was probably buried in simple interments. That being said, over 130 of the more elaborate Iron-IIB tombs are known from the vicinity of Jerusalem, and they are concentrated in Silwan, the Hinnom Valley, and the area north of the Damascus Gate. The cosmopolitan tastes of Jerusalem’s elite are reflected in the foreign influence visible in both tomb architecture and grave goods from Phoenicia and Egypt, and from as far as Anatolia and Urartu.

About 50 tombs, all looted, were catalogued at Silwan. Of these two deserve special mention. First is the “Tomb of the Pharaoh’s Daughter,” named for its Egyptian cornice, which features an unusual cubic plan and a fragmentary Hebrew inscription above the entrance. The second is the tomb of the “steward of the House” and his maidservant, who are identified as such alongside curses against tomb robbers that are listed in two seventh-century inscriptions outside the tomb’s entrance. Fifteen more elaborate tombs were found north of the Damascus Gate, such as those beneath St. Etienne’s Monastery and the two caves at Suleiman Street. Many of these are finely carved, with numerous chambers as well as peculiar horseshoe-shaped headrests (a shape which may reference the Egyptian goddess Hathor); and they are dated to the eighth to seventh centuries B.C.E. on the basis of their architecture. In the Hinnom Valley, excavations brought another half-dozen tombs to light. One tomb was undisturbed and yielded pottery from the eighth to seventh centuries B.C.E. as well as a bone seal featuring a rare female name, “Hamiahel daughter of Menahem.”

One of the most remarkable finds from the First Temple period at Jerusalem comes from cave 24 of the Ketef Hinnom tombs. The entrance to cave 24 faces north and leads to a forecourt that opens onto a large central hall. Six burial chambers are arranged along the hall’s eastern, southern, and western walls, the largest of which contained an unusually large bench with six headrests and beneath it a deep repository. The repository contained a rich hoard of pottery from the late seventh to early sixth centuries B.C.E., 40 iron arrowheads, gold, ivory, semiprecious stones, and over 125 silver objects. Two of these silver objects were tiny amulets, rolled-up scrolls inscribed with benedictory formulae, including the same priestly benediction that is found in Numbers 6:24–26, making the Ketef Hinnom amulets the earliest archaeological attestation of a biblical text.

The 586/87 B.C.E. Destruction.

After a decade of political turmoil in the house of Judah, Zedekiah’s second revolt against his Neo-Babylonian sponsor (Ezek 17:15) resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar II’s army (2 Kgs 25:8–10, Jer 39:8, 2 Chr 36:18–19). This event left an unmistakable archaeological imprint on the city, as attested on the southeastern hill, on the Ophel, and on the southwestern hill.

The destruction of the city on both the southeastern and southwestern hills is marked by the discovery of arrowheads of both the rounded, tanged and the triangular Irano–Scythian types. In addition, flint spheres (2–2.4 inches [5–6 cm] in diameter), which are common in Iron-Age contexts throughout the Jewish Quarter, should be identified as sling stone projectiles associated with the Babylonian attack on the city.

Telltale ash layers and signs of burning were almost completely erased by later activity on the southwestern hill. On the southeastern hill, however, signs of the Babylonian conflagration are well preserved in the collapsed Ashlar House and Lower Terrace House, as well as in the seventh-century B.C.E. structures near the Stepped Stone Structure. Other well-preserved destruction layers were found in the Ophel structures, and of particular interest is a seal discovered in the southernmost room of Building C, inscribed LHNH BT עZRYH, another rare glyphic reference to a woman.



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Philip Andrew Johnston