When Daniel Polisar first became aware of the archaeologist Eilat Mazar’s theory about where King David’s Jerusalem palace was located, he was immediately enthralled, and helped to raise the funds that enabled one of the most important excavations into the city’s ancient past. Mazar, who died this week at the age of sixty-four, eventually located a structure from King David’s time that fit the biblical description of the palace, in the place she had predicted. In a tribute to her, Polisar writes:
Though born a decade after the Jewish state was established, Mazar is seen by those privileged to know her as being among the country’s founders because she had that rare and unmistakable character of the generation of leaders who brought the state into being against all odds. She was driven by an instinctive love for the Land of Israel, felt deeply connected to the Bible without being traditionally religious, and embraced archaeology, with its alluring combination of the spiritual and the earthly.
Like [other members of] Israel’s “Greatest Generation,” Eilat was supremely confident and touchingly modest, naturally charming, and exasperatingly stubborn, totally committed to the national cause but even more devoted to her family, and undoubtedly crazy—in a good way, in the best way, what we Israelis refer to with admiration as a m’shuga l’davar [literally, crazy for one thing], someone who will do whatever it takes to achieve an impossible dream—not just once, but as a way of life.
Today, a decade and a half [after Eilat began the Jerusalem excavation], archaeologists debate whether the structure [she identified] better fits the Bible’s description of David’s Citadel or David’s Palace, but it is widely (though not entirely) accepted among scholars that the Mazar excavation provided compelling proof for a significant Israelite kingdom governed in the 10th century BCE from precisely that part of Jerusalem the Bible describes as the seat of King David’s rule.