Excavating at Mt. Zion: Jerusalem Dig Uncovers Ancient Mansion

Bible and archaeology news


Led by Shimon Gibson and James Tabor, the excavations at Mt. Zion in Jerusalem have unearthed a first-century C.E. mansion that may have belonged to aristocrats or a member of the wealthy Jewish priestly families. Photo: Shimon Gibson, University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Two years after discovering the lower levels of a first-century C.E. mansion in the Old City of Jerusalem, the Mt. Zion archaeological team led by Shimon Gibson and James Tabor of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte have continued to excavate the site, uncovering more of the mansion in the process. During this summer’s dig season, the team resumed their excavation of the finished bathroom found in 2013. The archaeologists also found another complete vaulted room.

“These remains are extraordinarily well-preserved, such that not only do we have the complete basements of houses with their rooms intact, but the first story of these houses are also very well-preserved,” Gibson told The Charlotte Observer. “This is truly amazing.”

Gibson explained that not many buildings from first-century Jerusalem have remained intact because of the Romans’ destruction of the city at the end of the First Jewish Revolt in 70 C.E. and Roman emperor Hadrian’s subsequent rebuilding atop the ruins 65 years later.

“Then, in the Byzantine period (330–1453 C.E.), the buildings were filled in so the area could be flattened in order to build houses and structures on the top,” Gibson added.

It is remarkable, then, that the mansion being excavated by the Mt. Zion dig team is so well preserved.

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The archaeologists believe that the mansion belonged to aristocrats or to a member of the wealthy Jewish priestly families. While this hypothesis seems to be a likely explanation from the types of artifacts found at the site—including a cache of murex shells, from which the highly sought-after rich purple dye was extracted—further evidence is needed, such as attestation from an inscription or other writing.

If the identities of the mansion residents can be verified, the site could offer scholars new insights into the lives of the ruling elites of Jerusalem during the time of Jesus.

Excavation codirector James Tabor, Professor of Christian origins and ancient Judaism at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, told The Charlotte Observer that he hopes the Mt. Zion site, along with some of the other dig sites in Jerusalem, will be open for public tours in the future.

Read more in The Charlotte Observer.

Estelle Reed is an intern at the Biblical Archaeology Society.


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  • Kurt says

    As Jesus had been rejected in earthly Jerusalem, it could not have been there that Jehovah laid his Son as “a tried stone, the precious corner of a sure foundation.” (Isa 28:16; Ro 9:32, 33; 1Pe 2:6) Rather, it must have been in the Zion concerning which Hebrew Christians were told: “But you have approached a Mount Zion and a city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem, and myriads of angels, in general assembly, and the congregation of the firstborn who have been enrolled in the heavens, and God the Judge of all, and the spiritual lives of righteous ones who have been made perfect, and Jesus the mediator of a new covenant.” (Heb 12:22-24) It is evidently on this heavenly Mount Zion that the Lamb, Christ Jesus, stands with the 144,000 who have been purchased from the earth.—Re 14:1-3.

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