The Ophel Treasure

A “once-in-a-lifetime discovery” at the foot of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount

The gold medallion, the prize find of the "Ophel treasure." Photo: Ouria Tadmor.

Dr. Eilat Mazar’s excavation at the Ophel in Jerusalem is one of the most high-profile investigations in the field of Biblical archaeology. The area between the City of David and the Temple Mount has been known as the Ophel (meaning “a high place to climb to”) since the First Temple period. In the Bible, King Jotham “did much building on the wall of the Ophel” (11 Chronicles 27:3) in the mid-8th century B.C.E., and the site’s history stretches back well before this constructon. In her book Discovering the Solomonic Wall in Jerusalem, Mazar recounts the storied excavation history of the site, which sits at the heart of ancient Jerusalem. Ophel investigators include Captain Charles Warren, Dame Kathleen Kenyon and (Eilat Mazar’s grandfather) Benjamin Mazar, yet none of these esteemed predecessors uncovered a cache as striking as the one found by Eilat Mazar during the 2013 field season.

The Ophel excavation team recently came across an archaeologist’s dream: a gold cache. A gold medallion stands out as the prize find: the medallion (pictured above) features a menorah, shofar (ram’s horn) and a Torah scroll, three sacred and iconic Jewish emblems. Alongside the elegantly etched medallion, the team uncovered 36 gold coins and gold and silver jewelry. In a post issued by The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mazar says, “We have been making significant finds from the First Temple Period in this area, a much earlier time in Jerusalem’s history, so discovering a golden seven-branched Menorah from the seventh century C.E. at the foot of the Temple Mount was a complete surprise.”

The so-called Ophel treasure includes thirty-six gold coins, as well as jewelry and other precious goods. The Byzantine coins date from the fourth to the early seventh centuries C.E. Photo: Ouria Tadmor

Discovered in a Byzantine structure originally constructed in the sixth century C.E., Mazar believes that the hoard was hidden during the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in 614, a short-lived but violent conquest.* The cache is only the third collection of gold coins ever discovered in Jerusalem. The so-called Ophel treasure, which was uncovered during the fifth day of the 2013 excavations, includes gold earrings, a silver ingot, dozens of coins and the iconic menorah medallion, which is described in the Hebrew University report as “most likely an ornament for a Torah scroll. In that case it is the earliest Torah scroll ornament found in an archaeological excavation to date. It was buried … along with a smaller gold medallion, two pendants, a gold coil and a silver clasp, all of which are believed to be Torah scroll ornamentations.”

Eilat Mazar.

The “Ophel treasure” is far from Mazar’s first iconic discovery. Her excavations and interpretations of the City of David’s Large Stone Structure and Stepped Stone Structure, which she deemed a palatial complex from the time of King David,** have reshaped Jerusalem archaeology debates (and tourism). Her excavations have yielded diverse finds, including a recently announced inscription uncovered in 2012, containing what may be Jerusalem’s earliest alphabetic text. The newly uncovered cache, with its emblematic iconography, will surely bring public attention to an important later period of Jerusalem history at the Ophel.

Read more from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Video republished here with permission from Eilat Mazar. Contact Dr. Mazar for reproduction rights.

Notes

*Ancient Persians Massacre Jerusalem ChristiansBAR, November/December 2010.

** Eilat Mazar, “Did I Find King David’s Palace?BAR January/February 2006. Available for free online in Bible History Daily.
 

More on the Ophel in Bible History Daily

Jerusalem’s Earliest Alphabetic Text

Discovering the Solomonic Wall in Jerusalem: A Remarkable Archaeological Adventure

Video: Inside the 2012 Ophel Excavations

Did I Find King David’s Palace?
 

More from Eilat Mazar

Dr. Eilat Mazar, of the Institute of Archaeology of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has excavated in ancient Jerusalem for over 30 years. She directs archaeological excavations on the summit of the City of David and at the southern wall of the Temple Mount.

Books

The Walls of the Temple Mount. This elegant, beautifully crafted boxed set records every stone in the walls of Jerusalem’s holiest site, the Temple Mount, and explains their significance – the gates, the arches, the secret passages, the sealed-up entrances, the underground tunnels and more.

Discovering the Solomonic Wall in Jerusalem This charming, informative, scholarly, yet understandable book combines youthful memories of her grandfather with Mazar’s own most recent excavations, exploreing the southern gate of biblical Jerusalem and discovering the city wall built by King Solomon.

Articles in the BAS Library

Achziv Cemeteries: Buried Treasure from Israel’s Phoenician Neighbor” BAR 36:05, Sep/Oct 2010.

The Wall That Nehemiah Built” BAR 35:02, Mar/Apr 2009.

Hadrian’s Legion.” BAR, 32:06, Nov/Dec 2006

Did I Find King David’s Palace?” BAR 32:01, Jan/Feb 2006. Also available to non-library members for free here.

Temple Mount Excavations Unearth the Monastery of the Virgins.” BAR 30:03, May/Jun 2004.

Excavate King David’s Palace!” BAR 23:01, Jan/Feb 1997

Royal Gateway to Ancient Jerusalem Uncovered” BAR 15:03, May/Jun 1989

Posted in Artifacts and the Bible, Jerusalem, News.

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  2. clive says

    Awesome keep up the good work, any chance you might find the Ark of The Covenant? Never mind if you can’t there is ton’s of “stuff” to be found keep searching, awesome, truly awesome.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Selected News Stories from Around the World* — Wednesday, September 11 | The BibleMesh Blog linked to this post on September 11, 2013

    [...] A “Once-in-a-Lifetime Discovery” at the Foot of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount (Bible History Daily) [...]

  2. Treasures in Clay Jars linked to this post on October 4, 2013

    [...] coin hoards have been discovered at recent Israeli excavations. Read The Ophel Treasure,Fatimid Treasure Discovered at Crusader-Era Apollonia-Arsuf and Bountiful Hoard Discovered Near [...]

  3. Top 10 Archaeological Finds in 2013 | When Was Jesus Born? New information is shocking! linked to this post on January 9, 2014

    [...] The Ophel Treasure: A “once-in-a-lifetime discovery” at the foot of Jerusalem’s Te… [...]


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