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13 B King David Palace Tel Aviv Essay

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Israel Finkelstein

Ze’ev Herzog

Lily Singer-Avitz

David Ussishkin
Tel Aviv University

Recent excavations at the City of David have revealed a set of massive walls constructed of large undressed stones. Excavator Eilat Mazar has presented them as the remains of a single building, which she labelled the ‘Large Stone Structure’. Mazar interpreted the ‘Large Stone Structure’ as part of a big construction complex, which had also included the ‘Stepped Stone Structure’ on the slope. She dated her ‘Large Stone Structure’ to ca. 1000 BCE and identified it as the palace of King David. We argue that: (1) the walls unearthed by Mazar do not belong to a single building; (2) the more elaborate walls may be associated with elements uncovered by Macalister and Duncan in the 1920s and should possibly be dated to the Hellenistic period; (3) the ‘Stepped Stone Structure’ represents at least two phases of construction— the lower (downslope) and earlier, possibly dating to the Iron IIA in the 9th century BCE, and the later (which connects to the Hasmonaean First Wall upslope) dating to the Hellenistic period.

Recent excavations at the City of David, the site where biblical Jerusalem was founded, have revealed the remains of a set of massive walls constructed of large undressed stones. The excavator, Eilat Mazar, has presented them as the remains of a single, substantial building, which she has labelled the ‘Large Stone Structure’ (E. Mazar 2006a; 2006b; 2007). Mazar dated her ‘Large Stone Structure’ to ca. 1000 BCE and, inspired by the ideas of the late Benjamin Mazar (E. Mazar 2006a: 20), identified it as the palace of King David. Eilat Mazar’s archaeological, chronological and, in fact, historical conclusions have unreservedly been endorsed by Amihai Mazar (2006: 269−270). The ostensible importance of this discovery and the media frenzy that has accompanied the excavation demand immediate discussion, which is based on the preliminary publications and on our own observations made during our visits to the site in both excavation seasons.1


We are grateful to Dr. Mazar for her hospitality and thorough explanations during our visits following the 2005 season and toward the end of the 2007 season. We also wish to thank her for permission to publish the illustrations on pages 146 and 156.


Finkelstein, Herzog, Singer-Avitz, Ussishkin: Has King David’s Palace in Jerusalem Been Found?

Eilat Mazar’s excavation field, which in 2005 covered an area of ca. 25 × 9−14 m, is located on the crest of the City of David ridge, directly to the west of Shiloh’s Area G. This field (and the adjoining eastern slope of the ridge) has been explored extensively. It falls within the northern side of Macalister and Duncan’s Field No. 5 (Macalister and Duncan 1926: map in back pocket). Macalister and Duncan exposed most of the area down to bedrock, including several cisterns and a rock-cut ‘olive press’ (ibid.: Pl. I, compare also the photograph ibid.: Fig. 20 with E. Mazar 2007: photograph on p. 31). They also uncovered the ‘Jebusite Ramp’ along the upper edge of the eastern slope (Macalister and Duncan 1926: Pl. V), commonly known today as the ‘Stepped Stone Structure’, as well as the two towers adjacent to the ramp—the southern, ‘Great Tower’, which they attributed to the ‘Early Hebrew period’, and the northern ‘Maccabean Tower’ (ibid.: map in back pocket). This fortification system has been widely identified as part of the late Hellenistic, Hasmonaean First Wall of Jerusalem (e.g., Geva 2003: 529−534; Wightman 1993: 88−94). In the 1960s the area was explored by Kenyon (for the final report see Steiner 2001). On the eastern slope (in her Area A, with Sub-areas A/I−A/XVIII) Kenyon exposed parts of the ‘Stepped Stone Structure’ with domestic units built over it, and investigated the set of the underlying terraces. In the late 1970s and early 1980s Shiloh continued the exploration of the eastern slope (his Area G—Shiloh 1984; for additional data on Shiloh’s excavations see Cahill 2003), studying, in the main, the same structures dealt with by Kenyon and their extensions.

The extensive exploration of the site, and the fact that certain areas were later back-filled, have affected the state of preservation of the ancient buildings. Modern restorations and additions are also evident. In the case of the southern tower this can easily be traced by comparing Macalister and Duncan’s photographs (1926: Fig. 46) with what currently exists. Shiloh described a massive revetment that supports the northern tower as a “modern retaining wall” (No. 6 in Shiloh 1984: Pl. 27: 1), and Steiner noted that “Part of the northern ramp had been restored with cement by the Department of Antiquities of Palestine” (2001: 51).

Eilat Mazar did not present the various elements in her excavation according to numbered strata; rather, she referred to them in terms of labels (e.g., the ‘earth accumulation’, the ‘Large Stone Structure’) and periods. In what follows we summarize her finds from bedrock to the Byzantine period (see E. Mazar 2007 in general; photograph ibid.: 31 for the stratigraphy of the first four elements):


TEL AVIV 34 (2007)

In several spots, the excavation reached bedrock with rock-cut cupmarks that were dated to the Chalcolithic period.

Next there is a whitish, ‘leveled surface’ that fills crevices in the bedrock and creates a flattened surface with plots of even bedrock. It was dated between the Chalcolithic period (the cupmarks below it) and the Middle Bronze Age (the earliest pottery in the layer above it—see below). Mazar (2006b: 12; 2006d: 21) suggested that in one place the area had been flattened in order to prepare for activity in the next phase.

Atop the whitish ‘leveled surface’ lies the ‘brown earth accumulation’. Pictures published thus far show its thickness to range between ca. 10 cm and a few dozen cm. A large number of pottery sherds dating to the Middle Bronze, Late Bronze and the Iron I was found in it. Mazar compared the Iron I sherds from this layer to the Giloh and Shiloh V assemblages (E. Mazar 2006b: 11−12). She interpreted the ‘brown earth accumulation’ as an accumulated layer of debris representing centuries of activity in an open space (E. Mazar 2006b: 11; 2007: 48), located outside the limit of the second millennium city. Following Macalister and Duncan (1926: 15), she believes that the Bronze Age city was situated further to the south on the ridge of the City of David (E. Mazar 2006b: 12; 2006d; 2007: 16−17, 28, 52).

A number of massive walls constructed of large stone blocks were built over the ‘brown earth accumulation’. Mazar interpreted these walls as belonging to a single building which she labelled the ‘Large Stone Structure’ (Fig. 1). According to her the main wall of this building (Wall 107), described as “slightly curved”, runs from west to east and is 28.4 m long and 2.50−3.00 m wide. Walls oriented perpendicularly to Wall 107 and bonded to it were unearthed along its southern side. The walls found on the northern side of the excavated area adjoin Wall 107 but are not bonded to it. Mazar (2006b: 12−13; 2007: 60) argued that the latter walls belong to a later phase of construction of the ‘Large Stone Structure’. The eastern wall of Mazar’s ‘Large Stone Structure’ (Wall 20) runs along the eastern edge of the crest of the ridge, above the steep slope, immediately to the west of the ‘Stepped Stone Structure’. Macalister and Duncan’s northern ‘Maccabean Tower’ adjoins the outer, eastern side of Wall 20. No floor levels related to the ‘Large Stone Structure’ have been uncovered. Fragments of several Iron IIA vessels were found in a narrow slot between walls in the northeastern sector of the excavation area (Locus 47).

Mazar dated the construction of the original building to ca. 1000 BCE (2007: 17−18, 63; see also A. Mazar 2006: 269−270) and identified it with the palace


Finkelstein, Herzog, Singer-Avitz, Ussishkin: Has King David’s Palace in Jerusalem Been Found?

that, according to 2 Samuel 5: 11, the Phoenicians built for King David. She interpreted the additions on the northern side of the building as a reinforcement carried out prior to Pharaoh Shishak’s attack on Jerusalem (2007: 61−62; for the foundations of Mazar’s dating see below).

According to Mazar, the ‘Large Stone Structure’ continued to be in use during Iron Age IIB, until the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE (E. Mazar 2007: 67). Iron IIB pottery was found in two locations (Loci 39 and 47), both not connected to floors. No remains were assigned to the Persian period.

The city-wall built on top of the eastern slope and the two towers adjoining it are late Hellenistic in date and should be identified with the Hasmonaean fortification (2007: 71). This includes the segment of the city wall to the north of the northern tower, which Kenyon identified (1974: 191) with the fortifications built by Nehemiah. According to this view, Wall 20, which marks the eastern limit of the ‘Large Stone Structure’, was reused by the Hasmonaeans in their fortification system (E. Mazar 2007: plan on p. 73). Among the remains of the ‘Second Temple Period’, Mazar describes a cistern with two compartments and a stone-built arched roof, first exposed by Macalister and Duncan (1926: 93−96, Fig. 80). According to her observation, an “arched cistern is located at the western end of our excavation area, its arch having been built into W107 of the Large Stone Structure.… The impression already received is that the cistern was hewn in the earliest stages of human activity in this area. Once the Large Stone Structure was built (… The Iron Age IIA...

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