A “once-in-a-lifetime discovery” at the foot of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount
Dr. Eilat Mazar’s excavation at the Ophel in Jerusalem was 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 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.”
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.”
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.
This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on September 9, 2013.—Ed.
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