A visit to Jerusalem is a great touring experience for Israelis and tourists from all around the world. The truly interesting part of Jerusalem is actually located deep underneath the surface. Winding tunnels, dark spaces and ancient springs tell the story of the city which thrived at the site thousands of years ago. Some of the sites are well known, others are less familiar, and some are closed to the general public for various reasons. However, they all share in common a special aura of mystery, while shedding some light upon the vibrant life of ancient Jerusalem.
The Givati parking lot dig between the City of David and the Western Wall
Ten interesting facts that are important to know about ancient Jerusalem:
1. The first time Jerusalem is mentioned
As puzzling as it may sound, the first record of the city of Jerusalem is actually not from the Bible. Even before Jerusalem is mentioned in the Bible, a more ancient testimony of the existence of the city was found – in the Execration Texts written over 3,800 years ago. There, the city of Shalem or Ur-Shalem is mentioned along with other cities in the vicinity, and researchers believe that this is ancient Jerusalem. The Execration Texts are curses written upon pottery during a magical ceremony in which it was customary to break the pottery after the inscribing was finished. Shattering the pottery symbolized the fate which awaited the cities that would dare to rebel against the Egyptian kingdom.
2. Jerusalem was not conquered in the times of Joshua
During the conquest of the land of Israel, despite the fact that the king of Jerusalem was killed in the battle for the city, Jerusalem did not fall into Joshua’s hands. The reason for this, scholars theorize, is related to the fact that Jerusalem is a highly fortified city and therefore a difficult site to conquer.
3. The most ancient record of a verse in the Bible
In ancient Jerusalem, the most ancient artifact of a biblical text was discovered – two tiny silver scrolls found carefully rolled up, dating back to about 600 BCE. The words of the Priestly Blessing from the Bible are inscribed upon these scrolls. Opening of the scrolls was delayed for three years while a method of unrolling them without causing damage was developed. Only after over ten years were the team of scientists, using advanced technologies, successful in deciphering the entire text found. Today, the silver scrolls are on exhibit at the Israel Museum, an inspiration for Priestly Blessing themed art and jewelry.
Photo of Priestly Blessing necklace alongside the original finding.
4. Testimony of names mentioned in the Bible
Ancient Jerusalem is the only place where artifacts were found bearing the names of people who lived in the city and are mentioned in the Bible. One example is Gemaryahu Ben Shafan, one of the king’s scribes, whose name was found on a bulla preserved in the Bullae House located in Area G of the City of David.
The Gemaryahu Ben Shafan bulla
5. Where it all began - The site where the books took place
The City of David, which is the ancient Jerusalem mentioned in the Bible, is the site where a large portion of the biblical stories we are familiar with took place, such as the anointment of Solomon, the story of Bathsheba and more. The city of Jerusalem was limited at that time to the vicinity of the City of David alone. The remaining parts of the city, including what is known today as the Old City, were not part of the city at all. At the City of David, about half of the books of the bible were written, and the stories from biblical Jerusalem that we are all familiar with took place at the City of David.
6. One of the most impressive excavated water systems in the land of Israel
Researchers from the Hebrew University were successful in proving, using a radiometric test, that the tunnel was quarried during the period of King Hezekiah in 700 BCE. The Gihon Spring that is located outside the city walls was the city’s water source at that time. During war times when the city was attacked, the residents of Jerusalem would be cut off from their sole water source, and the enemy would utilize the precious resource for its own benefit. In order to solve this problem and divert the water flow into the city, the Shiloach (Siloam) tunnel was quarried at a length of half a kilometer; it is recognized as “the most impressive ancient water system in Israel.” A visit to the Shiloach tunnel on a hot summer day is both an amazing historical experience and an enjoyable walk through the cool tunnel waters.
7. The soil of the Temple Mount was never excavated
The common belief is that the Temple Mount was never excavated by archaeologists is correct, but only partially. Although an archaeological excavation was never performed on the mount itself, rubble from the mount was indeed analyzed. For in 1999, the Waqf dug a huge pit on the Temple Mount without archaeological supervision, and 400 truckloads of rubble rich in artifacts was carelessly thrown out. Years of sifting work performed at Emek Zurim yielded the discovery of rare artifacts, such as the half-shekel coin, coins from the Roman era, a Roman dice and arrowhead, and more. To ensure that no item be missed, the sifting work must be performed thoroughly and takes a long time. The work is still underway, and anyone interested can take part in this important historical project.
Photo of Jewel with a stone from the Temple Mount and decoration of the walls of Jerusalem.
8. The Western Wall Tunnels- not what you thought
Today, a tour of the Western Wall Tunnels is a captivating educational experience. But the first time that the Western Wall Tunnels were uncovered in 1867, they were no more than sewage tunnels; the British researchers who discovered them sailed atop wooden doors and used branches as oars. The tunnel ended in the basement of the Convent of the Sisters of Zion, and the nuns were so frightened by the filthy figures who emerged out of nowhere in the middle of the night that they decided to seal the wall leading to the tunnels.
9. The most dynamic archaeological site
The advancement of the excavations at the City of David results in every visit to the site being different than the last, even if just a year has passed. Every professional publication quickly becomes irrelevant as more new artifacts are discovered.
New findings are constantly exposed
10. World record for the most excavation delegations
The City of David is the site which has been excavated by the largest number of delegations in history, and vast amounts of information have been learned at the site. Nevertheless, only a quarter of the vicinity has been excavated to date and there is still much more concealed than what has been revealed.