Remembering the Archaeologist Who Uncovered Biblical Jerusalem

Yesterday, Eilat Mazar, a leading Israeli archaeologist who pioneered the excavation of ancient Jerusalem, died at the age of sixty-four. The granddaughter of Benjamin Mazar—who along with the soldier-scholar Yigael Yadin helped to establish the field of Israeli archaeology—she has done perhaps more than anyone to show how ancient structures and artifacts fit into the biblical narrative. Mazar was most recently engaged in the excavation of a royal complex south of the Temple Mount where, in 2018, she identified an ancient clay seal that may have belonged to the prophet Isaiah. But her most famous, and perhaps most controversial, finding was the ruins of building she believed was likely King David’s palace. She described how she came to this discovery in a 2006 essay:

There can be little doubt that King David had a palace. The Bible tells us that Hiram of Tyre (who would later help King Solomon build the Temple) constructed the palace for David: “King Hiram of Tyre sent envoys to David, with cedar logs, carpenters and stonemasons; and they built a palace for David” (2Samuel 5:11). Nine years ago [i.e., in 1997], I wrote an article . . . suggesting [that] the remains of King David’s palace might lie . . . in the northern part of the most ancient area of Jerusalem, known as the City of David.

I was struck by this idea while engaged in other research on the archaeology of Jerusalem. I had noticed the findings of the well-known British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon, who dug here in the 1960s. In [what she termed] Area H, at the northern end of the City of David, Kenyon discovered a section of a massive public structure that she considered to be part of a new casemate wall built by King Solomon. She dated the wall, on the basis of the pottery associated with it, to the 10th century BCE, the time of King David and King Solomon, according to the Bible. . . . Perhaps this casemate wall, I speculated, was part of David’s palace.

Aside from the archeological discoveries there, the site fit quite well with . . . 2Samuel 5:17, which describes David in the City of David going down, or descending from his residence to the citadel or fortress (m’tsudah). The citadel or fortress to which he descended was of course the Jebusite stronghold, the “Fortress of Zion” that he had conquered a short time earlier.

It is clear from the topography of the City of David that David could have gone down to the citadel only from the north, as the city is surrounded by deep valleys on every other side. It also makes sense that the Jebusite stronghold would have been located at the high point in the City of David, that is, in its northernmost section. . . . If this was in fact the case, one can infer that after conquering the city, David’s palace was constructed north of this citadel (David went down to the fortress) and outside the northern fortifications of the city.

With this hypothesis in mind, Mazar set out to excavate the area, and found remains that, as she put it, “square perfectly with the biblical description” of David’s palace.

Read more at Biblical Archaeology Review

More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, Jerusalem, King David

In the Next Phase of the War, Israel’s Biggest Obstacles May Be Political Rather Than Military

To defeat Hamas, Israel will have to attack the city of Rafah, which lies on the border between Egypt and Gaza, and which now contains the bulk of the terrorist group’s fighting forces as well as, most likely, the Israeli hostages. Edward Luttwak examines how this stage of the war will be different from those that preceded it:

To start with, Rafah has very few of the high-rise apartment houses, condo towers, and mansions of Gaza City and Khan Yunis. This makes street-fighting much simpler because there are no multilevel basements from which many fighters can erupt at once, nor looming heights with firing positions for snipers. Above all, if a building must be entered and cleared room-by-room, perhaps because a high-value target is thought to be hiding there, it does not take hundreds of soldiers to search the place quickly.

Luttwak also argues that the IDF will be able to evacuate a portion of the civilian population without allowing large numbers of Hamas guerrillas to escape. In his view, the biggest challenge facing Israel, therefore, is a political one:

Israel will have to contend with one final hurdle: the fact that its forces cannot proceed without close coordination with Egypt’s rulers. President Sisi’s government detests Hamas—the Gaza offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood they overthrew—and shed no tears at the prospect of its further destruction in Rafah. However, they also greatly fear the arrival of a flood of Palestinians fleeing from the Israeli offensive.

As for the Israeli war cabinet, it is equally determined to win this war in Rafah and to preserve strategic cooperation with Egypt, which has served both sides very well. That takes some doing, and accounts for the IDF’s failure to move quickly into Rafah. But victory is Israel’s aim—and it’s not going to give up on that.

Read more at UnHerd

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security