Steven Law | Patterns of Evidence
Summary: The new discovery of a First Temple era palace along with the best-preserved capitals to date, confirms the Bible’s account of a thriving Kingdom of Judah in the 7th century BC.
But Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the LORD did not come upon them in the days of Hezekiah. And Hezekiah had very great riches and honor, and he made for himself treasuries for silver, for gold, for precious stones, for spices, for shields, and for all kinds of costly vessels; storehouses also for the yield of grain, wine, and oil; and stalls for all kinds of cattle, and sheepfolds. He likewise provided cities for himself, and flocks and herds in abundance, for God had given him very great possessions. – 2 Chronicles 32:26-29 (ESV)
Archaeological Evidence of the Biblical Kingdom of Judah
Archaeologists in Jerusalem have uncovered rare majestic capitals (column heads) along with other “evidence of a magnificent” palace that they believe was built during the time of King Hezekiah (c. 700 BC) or soon afterward. The finds match the Bible’s account of conditions in the kingdom of Judah during the famous king’s reign and point to the under-appreciated influence it had on surrounding cultures, including ancient Greece.
Many in the archaeological community doubt the Bible’s version of a strong and centralized Israel in the days of kings David and Solomon and through much of the First Temple Period. Instead, they propose these accounts are largely exaggerations and that Israel’s early kings were merely rustic tent-dwellers ruling over a clans of herdsmen. However, archaeological findings such as this continue to push back the dates for highly robust and cosmopolitan kingdoms in the land of Israel.
The finds were made in the Armon HaNatziv neighborhood on a strategic hill just south of Jerusalem’s Old City. At a little over a mile from the Temple Mount it had a commanding view of the city and Temple. The excavation team from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), directed by Yaakov Billig made the announcement recently. It is unknown whether the palace was built by a king or by a family of nobility and wealth.
“The level of workmanship is the best seen to date, and the degree of preservation is rare,” IAA archaeologists said in a statement. “These stone artifacts are made of soft limestone, with decorative carvings, and among them are capitals of various sizes in the architectural style known as ‘Proto-Aeolian,’ one of the most significant royal building features of the First Temple period.”
New Building in Jerusalem After the Assyrian Threat was Averted
The Book of 1 Kings chapters 18-20 tells of the invasion of Judah by the Assyrians in the 14th year of King Hezekiah’s reign. The Assyrians, fresh off their conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel, soon defeated all of Judah’s major cities and laid siege to Jerusalem. However, Hezekiah humbled himself and cried out to the Lord for deliverance. The Assyrians broke off the attack, ushering in a period of renewed growth and expansion in Judah, especially Jerusalem. This rejuvenation is reflected in several recent 7th century BC finds in the area.
”[This palace] indicates the restoration of Jerusalem after the Assyrian siege of the city in 701 BC, during the reign of King Hezekiah, a siege which the city barely survived. Along with a palace previously uncovered in Ramat Rachel and an administrative center found on the slopes of Arnona, attests to a new revival in the city and a somewhat ‘exit from the walls’ of the First Temple period, after the Assyrian siege,” archaeologists stated. (See the huge Kingdom of Judah complex discovered nearby from the same period.)
Billig explained that all these finds “reveal villas, mansions and government buildings in the area outside the walls of the city. This testifies to the relief felt by the city’s residents and the recovery of Jerusalem’s development after the Assyrian threat was over.”
The site was always seen as strategic, since it received its modern name (Governor’s Palace) because it housed the seat of the British High Commissioner during the mandate period.
Proto-Aeolic Capitals – “The Most Beautiful and Impressive …to Date”
The most significant finds were three medium-sized proto-Aeolic capitals. Capitals are the stylized uppermost part of a column. “Proto” means “first” and the Aeolic style would later become important in classical Greece. However, dozens of capitals of this style have been found in Israel’s First Temple period, long before they developed in Greece.
Commenting on the capitals, Billig said, “This is a very exciting discovery. This is a first-time discovery of scaled-down models of the giant proto-Aeolian capitals, of the kind found thus far in the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel, where they were incorporated above the royal palace gates. The level of workmanship on these capitals is the best seen to date, and the degree of preservation of the items is rare.”
These Proto-Aeolic capitals feature two spiral volutes. This design was a hallmark of the monarchy of Judah is very familiar today to Israelis – it adorns the modern five-shekel coin, which pays tribute to this First Temple era motif.
Many scholars call this a palm motif. This style and accompanying columns may have gone back to the time of Solomon’s building of the Temple.
On them [the doors] he carved cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, and he overlaid them with gold evenly applied on the carved work. – 1 Kings 6:35 (ESV)
He also made two capitals of cast bronze to set on the tops of the pillars. The height of the one capital was five cubits, and the height of the other capital was five cubits… Now the capitals that were on the tops of the pillars in the vestibule were of lily-work, four cubits. – 1 Kings 7:16, 19 (ESV)
Also found were smaller versions of the capitals that are believed to have adorned the balusters of lavish window frames. These “are the most beautiful and impressive that have been uncovered to date,” according to the IAA.
Capitals Purposely Hidden
Building materials were typically repurposed whenever a structure was destroyed in the ancient world. This leads to the conclusion that some of these elements were purposely hidden.
“It was a great surprise that two of the three capitals were found neatly buried, one on top of the other and in excellent condition. The rest of the building was destroyed, probably in the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in around 586 BC,” said Billig. “At this point it is still difficult to say who hid the capitals in the way they were discovered, and why he did so, but there is no doubt that this is one of the mysteries at this unique site, to which we will try to offer a solution.”
In the face of the invading Babylonians, perhaps someone sought a memorial that would function as a kind of time capsule to preserve this symbol of the glory of Judah’s kingdom for future generations to find. (See evidence for the confirmation of the unlikely Bible prediction that the Babylonians would destroy Jerusalem.)
The Bible Matching Archaeology
The Bible speaks of lavish buildings like these being constructed all the way through to the end of the kingdom. The prophet Jeremiah spoke against the unrighteous methods by which many of these were built.
“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice, who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing and does not give him his wages, who says, ‘I will build myself a great house with spacious upper rooms,’ who cuts out windows for it, paneling it with cedar and painting it with vermilion. Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar?,,, – Jeremiah 22:13-15 (ESV)
The archealogical discovery of this palace with beautifully carved proto-Aeolic capitals in the style of the Kingdom of Judah matches the situation the Bible describes in remarkable ways. In addition, like the world’s first alphabet, many aspects of cultural influence may have gone from Israel to Phoenicia and then to the Greek world – and not the other way around. We look forward to exploring what other things this may have included. – KEEP THINKING
TOP PHOTO: Director Yaakov Billig with two proto-Aeolic capitals discovered at the Armon HaNatziv excavation. (credit: Yoli Shwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority)