BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Biblical “Chamber” Identified in Jerusalem?

A lavish reception hall sheds light on Jerusalem’s ruling class

Iron Age Jerusalem’s administrative district just south of the ancient Temple Mount. Yaeir Z, Courtesy of the City of David Archive

Iron Age Jerusalem’s administrative district just south of the ancient Temple Mount, located in the area of the ongoing Givati Parking Lot excavations, included a magnificent elite residence (see arrow). Yaeir Z, Courtesy of the City of David Archive.

The magnificent structure recently excavated in the City of David was unique in Jerusalem’s ancient landscape during the closing centuries of the Iron Age. Destroyed most likely during the Babylonian capture of Jerusalem in 586 BCE that marked the end of the First Temple period, this large public building reflects the daily life of Jerusalem’s ruling elite. But what exactly was its purpose? Could it have been an example of a “chamber” that the Hebrew Bible often associates with Jerusalem’s priests and senior officials (2 Kings 23:11; Jeremiah 35:2–5)?

Co-directors of the current Givati Parking Lot excavations, Israeli archaeologists Yuval Gadot and Yiftah Shalev, present their latest findings about “Building 100” in the Spring 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. Their article “Lifestyles of Jerusalem’s Rich and Famous” offers a first-hand account of the building and its possible functions. A complementing article by Reli Avisar published in the same issue introduces one specific and rare type of artifact recovered from the building. Titled “Fragments of Luxury: The Jerusalem Ivories,” it explores the hundreds of fragments of ivories found in Building 100 and what they reveal about Jerusalem’s wealthiest residents.

To fully appreciate the new discovery, we need to recognize that Jerusalem of the seventh and early sixth centuries BCE was a prosperous city. The bustling capital of the kingdom of Judah, Jerusalem was well connected to the larger Near East. Its administrative district in the City of David, just south of the ancient Temple Mount, hosted the royal palace and other official state institutions, including a magnificent residence and reception hall (Building 100) located on the northwestern slope of the southeastern ridge.

Building 100 is one of the largest structures known from Iron Age Jerusalem. Only three ground floor rooms are preserved of the two-story building. Mikhael Kaplan.

Fine architectural features, preserved decoration, and recovered artifacts all attest to the uniqueness of Building 100. “Most impressive was a thick, terrazzo-style plaster floor that adorned at least part of the building’s second story,” write Gadot and Shalev. “The floor was made of a base of coarse limestone fragments, topped by a thick layer of well-sifted sediment and calcite crystals. Its hardened surface was polished to create a smooth, reddish, shimmering floor. This is the first time such a floor has ever been found in Iron Age Israel.”

Also reflecting the building’s splendor is a rich collection of bullae and seals that indicate the presence of the personal or administrative archive of a high official. The rich assemblage of tableware discovered smashed on the floor of one of the ground-floor rooms included a set of fine drinking vessels suited for banquets, receptions, and official ceremonies.

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The ivory fragments found in Building 100 most likely belonged to plaques used as inlays to decorate luxury furniture. Sasha Flit.

Most indicative of the building’s grandeur, however, is the assemblage of decorated ivory plaques, which most likely served as decorative inlays attached to luxury furniture. These ivories are similar to those found at other royal capitals of the Iron Age Near East, including Assyrian Nimrud and Israelite Samaria. In fact, Assyrian reliefs offer instructive depictions of furniture decorated with inlaid ivory plaques. Whether made locally or imported from Assyria, “the ivory plaques from Building 100 show that Jerusalem was well connected to the wider region during the late Iron Age,” writes Reli Avisar. “Its wealthiest residents were well versed in the fashions of the day and benefited from the trade and movement of high-end luxury goods, materials, and craftsmen that were supported through the Assyrian Empire.”

“Although we still don’t know when Building 100 was first built, we do know it was violently destroyed,” write Gadot and Shalev. “Throughout the building, we found the collapsed walls and floors of the upper story, along with charred wood and burnt debris caused by a great fire that engulfed the building. The pottery from the collapse, together with radiocarbon and archaeomagnetic data, all confirm the site was destroyed in the early sixth century—most likely during the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE that marked the end of the First Temple period.”

To further explore the unprecedented Building 100 and how it may be identified with the biblical “chamber,” read Yuval Gadot and Yiftah Shalev’s article “Lifestyles of Jerusalem’s Rich and Famous” and Reli Avisar’s accompanying article “Fragments of Luxury: The Jerusalem Ivories,” both published in the Spring 2024 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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Subscribers: Read the full articles “Lifestyles of Jerusalem’s Rich and Famous,” by Yuval Gadot and Yiftah Shalev, as well as “Fragments of Luxury: The Jerusalem Ivories,” by Reli Avisar, in the Spring 2024 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Start of the Jewish Diaspora

Ivory Riches from First Temple Jerusalem

Givati Parking Lot Dig Unearths Rare Seal of Woman

 

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:


Lifestyles of Jerusalem’s Rich and Famous

Fragments of Luxury: The Jerusalem Ivories

Visualizing First Temple Jerusalem

 
Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.
 


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