uncovering ancient Jerusalem
Ophel 2018 HWAC Excavators
Rachael exploring the many shafts in the cave
Justice and rachael
Happy to be working
Taking out a stone
13.6 Reese goes down a shaft
13.5 Inside a cave
Dec Slide 12
Dec Slide 11
Slide 10.10

Dr. Eilat Mazar, Queen of Jerusalem Archaeology, Has Died

Dr. Eilat Mazar, Queen of Jerusalem Archaeology, Has Died

Preeminent biblical archaeologist of Jerusalem, Dr. Eilat Mazar, died on May 25 at age 64, after a three-year battle with a serious illness. Dr. Mazar leaves behind a rich legacy of biblically significant discoveries including the discovery of King David’s palace, Nehemiah’s wall, the Solomonic gate of Jerusalem, as well as numerous discoveries related to biblical figures.

An indomitable woman of strength and determination, Dr. Mazar unabashedly believed the Bible to be the most important source in excavating ancient Jerusalem. And when the discoveries in the field matched the contents of Scripture, Dr. Mazar never refrained from “letting the stones speak.” As such Dr. Mazar was a champion of true scientific discovery in ancient Jerusalem.

During Dr. Eilat Mazar’s archaeological excavations in ancient Jerusalem, four biblical personalities were confirmed as being historical figures. In the City of David, Dr. Mazar discovered the seal impressions belonging to two of the Prophet Jeremiah’s accusers, Gedaliah son of Pashur and Jehucal son of Shelemiah, both mentioned in Jeremiah 38:1, and uncovered in 2005 and 2008. In 2009, while excavating on the Ophel, an area just south of the southern wall of the Temple Mount, Dr. Mazar uncovered the seal impressions of King Hezekiah of Judah and Isaiah.

The seal impression of King Hezekiah, which released to the public in 2015, remains the only biblical king of Judah ever to be discovered in controlled scientific excavations. Its discovery was also the personal highlight of all of Dr. Mazar’s long career of excavating Jerusalem—one that spanned five decades.

As a small child, Eilat worked alongside her grandfather, the late Prof. Benjamin Mazar, on the Temple Mount excavations. Benjamin Mazar was a founding father of the modern Jewish state; he was central to the establishment of Hebrew University and the Israel Exploration Society, as well as numerous other intellectual and public institutions.

As a child, Dr. Mazar visited archaeological digs all over Israel. Together with her sister (Tali), young Eilat would serve tea and coffee at her grandfather’s weekly living-room gatherings of Israel’s most important figures. When Eilat finished her mandated stint in the army, she literally ran to the admissions office at Hebrew University. She studied archaeology and the history of the Jewish people.

In 1981, after attaining her bachelor’s degree, Eilat participated in the City of David excavations directed by Prof. Yigal Shiloh from 1981 to 1985. Within a few weeks of starting work, she was given her own area to supervise. For her master’s thesis mentored by Prof. Nahman Avigad at Hebrew University, Eilat studied the First Temple period finds from the prior excavations of the Ophel area just south of the Temple Mount’s southern wall.

In 1986, Eilat convinced her grandfather to return to the field and join her as codirector of a small excavation at the southernmost area of the Ophel. Benjamin agreed and almost immediately the pair discovered remains of the First Temple period gatehouse (the first ever discovered in Jerusalem). In 1997, Dr. Mazar attained her Ph.D. from Hebrew University for a comprehensive pioneering study about the biblical Phoenicians based on her ongoing excavations (which began in 1984) at the key Phoenician site of Achziv (northern shore of Israel).

In 1997, Dr. Mazar wrote an article for Biblical Archaeology Review suggesting the location of King David’s palace based on the description in 2 Samuel 5:17 that King David “went down” into his city. She hypothesized that the ruins of David’s palace must be in the northern part of the City of David. In 2005, she received funding and permission to start an excavation. Within weeks, Eilat had uncovered massive walls, indicating the presence of a large structure, which dated to King David’s period.

Dr. Mazar conducted three phases of excavations in the City of David between 2005 and 2008. She uncovered more evidence of David’s palace, as well as other remarkable artifacts supporting the biblical record, including the seal impressions of two biblical figures mentioned in Jeremiah 37 and 38, as well as a portion of Nehemiah’s hastily constructed wall (Nehemiah 6:15).

In 2009, Dr. Mazar returned to the Ophel to excavate. This dig and three more excavations (2012, 2013, 2018) have uncovered some extraordinary history. Discoveries include a massive city wall from King Solomon’s time, the Menorah Medallion treasure, dozens of coins relating to the first-century Jewish revolt, and two biblical seal impressions: one belonging to King Hezekiah of Judah and the other belonging to Isaiah.

With Dr. Mazar’s death today, Jerusalem loses its queen of biblical archaeology. Nevertheless, the significance of her discoveries will resonate for years to come. She will be dearly missed on the excavations in ancient Jerusalem and in the hearts of all those she has touched with her passion, sincerity and grace. Most notably, her sister, daughter and three sons.

We are deeply saddened by her death, but will endeavor to uphold her legacy as well as her archaeological method and let the stones of ancient Jerusalem continue to speak.

The Monumental Four-Way Staircase of Herod the Great

The Monumental Four-Way Staircase of Herod the Great

One of Jerusalem’s most iconic archaeological images is Robinson’s Arch. Named for Bible scholar Edward Robinson, who observed it in 1838, it is the ruin of what would have been a great stone landmark well-known to the Jews and Romans of 2,000 years ago.

The conspicuous remnant of this 15-meter-wide archway springing from 20 meters up the Western Wall of the Temple Mount has led to all manner of conclusions about its purpose. At first it was thought to be part of a bridge connecting the southern portion of the Temple Mount to the aristocratic upper city on the hill to the west. Later it was thought to be part of a monumental right-angled staircase that turned south and led toward the City of David. Later still it was thought to be part of a two-way staircase that turned both to the south and to the north.

Now, Jerusalem archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar has a new theory: Instead of a one-way or a two-way staircase imagined by excavators, the arch was part of a monumental four-way staircase, a structure completely unique among ancient classical architecture. You can read documentation of this amazing interpretation in her recently published book, Over the Crossroads of Time: Jerusalem’s Temple Mount Monumental Staircases.

Dr. Mazar’s discovery has been a long time in the making.

Three decades after Robinson documented the remnant of the arch, an artistic representation shows a man standing right next to the arch.

Today, the arch is high above ground level. This is mainly due to massive archaeological excavations undertaken from 1968 to 1978 by Dr. Mazar’s grandfather, Prof. Benjamin Mazar of Hebrew University. The “Big Dig” Temple Mount excavations, which continued year-round for a decade, first focused on the area directly beneath Robinson’s Arch. What Professor Mazar discovered there were massive cut stones laying on a street built during the first half of the first century C.E. They had fallen from the Western Wall during the C.E. 70 destruction of Jerusalem.

A few meters to the east, just across that same street, Professor Mazar’s team of excavators—and Eilat, only 13 at the time—uncovered stone doorways. These would have been entrances to shops that lined the street opposite the Western Wall. The shops were incorporated into the chambers of a massive, 3.8-meter-wide, 15-meter-long stone pier. Artifacts related to the pier revealed that it had been built by none other than Herod the Great. Professor Mazar had located the foundation for the other side of Robinson’s Arch.

Further excavations by Professor Mazar revealed that the pier connected to a structure with a series of vaults running perpendicular to the direction of the arch. He determined that, similar to Robinson’s arch itself, these vaults formed the foundation to an overhead walkway. And as these vaults generally descended in height toward the south, they had discovered the remains of a staircase that made a right-angled turn.

This understanding of the structure remained largely accepted for decades: the huge staircase descended westward, then turned southward (although Mazar’s architect, Brian Lalor, suspected that an additional staircase turned northward).

After Professor Mazar’s death in 1995, his granddaughter took up the mantle and continued preparing his work for final scientific publication. Five volumes of The Temple Mount Excavations in Jerusalem have been published so far in Hebrew University’s QEDEM series. Poring over her grandfather’s 50-year-old field documentation forced Dr. Eilat Mazar to reexamine the arch structure. And she was surprised by what she found.

“As we learned, this structure, believed by Benjamin Mazar to be a monumental staircase with a 90-degree turn to the south, is actually a much more elaborate staircase,” she writes in her new book. “With four turns—not the one suggested by B. Mazar—this was a Four-Way Monumental Staircase, unique among the structures of the classical world.”

Critical to this change in understanding was the reexamination of the gradated vaults that supported the staircase and the realization that the remains of those vaults actually lead in four different directions from the initial descent.

According to Mazar, construction of the monumental staircase took place at the same time as the Temple Mount and was part of King Herod’s master plan. According to first-century Jewish historian Josephus, construction on the Temple Mount began in the 18th year of Herod’s reign and continued until his death (19 to 4 B.C.E.). Afterward, construction slowed considerably, and the staircase and associated street and plaza were not fully functional until 40 years later.

Based on numerous coins discovered inside the structure, Dr. Mazar concludes, “With the completion of the Four-Way Monumental Staircase, the spaces inside its vaults and surroundings were left undeveloped as a rocky area until the rule of Pontius Pilatus/Agrippa I (C.E. 26–44).”

This means that the inhabitants of Jerusalem had only a generation or two to see and use this grand structure before it was destroyed in C.E. 70 and commenced its 2,000-year wait for someone to put together all the pieces.

To learn more, read Dr. Mazar’s latest book: Over the Crossroads of Time: Jerusalem’s Temple Mount Monumental Staircases.

Has Eilat Mazar Discovered Archaeological Evidence of Isaiah the Prophet?

The Old Testament record shows that King Hezekiah was a contemporary of Isaiah the prophet. The Biblical books of Kings, Chronicles, and Isaiah show that this prophet played a central role in Hezekiah’s remarkable reign over Judah.

Today we have indisputable scientific evidence proving the existence of King Hezekiah. But what about Hezekiah’s chief counselor, and one of the Bible’s greatest prophets? Is there archaeological evidence proving the existence of the prophet Isaiah?

In the above video, Dr. Eilat Mazar discusses the dramatic recent discovery of the likely seal impression of Isaiah the Prophet.

To understand more about this discovery, please read “Has Eilat Mazar Discovered Archaeological Evidence of Isaiah the Prophet?

Click here to read Dr. Mazar’s official study of the bulla in Volume II of the Final Report of the Ophel Excavations 2009-2013

Where Is the Dig?

Where Is the Dig?

In this view of Jerusalem (looking west), we’ve pointed out the two excavation sites (King David’s Palace and the Ophel Excavation) and their geographical relation to the Temple Mount, for your convenience.