Solomon’s Temple Destruction Gives Clues to Modern Science

Remains from the Babylonian burning of Jerusalem help scientists understand the changes in the geomagnetic field of Earth.


The Givati Parking Lot Excavations in the City of David. Photo: Kobi Harati.

Dates and places are not known definitively for much of what is described in the Hebrew Bible. However, the sacking of Jerusalem and destruction of Solomon’s Temple by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25, 8-9), is broadly accepted by scholars as having happened in 586 B.C.E. Because the date and the historicity of the event, is well-established, it provides a valuable anchor for scientific inquiry.

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In a paper published in Plos One on August 7th, researchers revealed that they were able to determine what the Earth’s geomagnetic field was at the time of the destruction. This allows scientists to compare to the geomagnetic field of today, chart the changes that have occurred over a precise period of time, and potentially project geomagnetic changes into the future. Earth’s geomagnetic field provides stability to Earth’s atmosphere and protects the planet from outside particles. For scientists, greater understanding of how the geomagnetic field has differed from a precise time 2,600 years ago, may provide important insights.


A reconstruction of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. Drawing: Leen Ritmeyer.

In the study, researchers analyzed hundreds of burnt floor segments from a building in the Givati parking lot excavation in the City of David. By archaeomagnetic analysis, They were able to establish that most samples had reached a temperature of more than 1100 degrees Farenheit, such that the material would demagnetize, then orient to the magnetic field in the cooling down process. They could also determine that most of the samples were from the second floor of the original building, which had collapsed when the beams holding it up had been destroyed in the fires of Nebuchadnezzar’s sacking of Jerusalem, an event that marked the end of the Iron Age in the Levant.

The paper, “The Earth’s magnetic field in Jerusalem during the Babylonian destruction: A unique reference for field behavior and an anchor for archaeomagnetic dating” was written by Yoav Vaknin, Ron Shaar, Yuval Gadot, Yiftah Shalev, Oded Lipschits, and Erez Ben-Yosef. It is but one example of how biblical archaeology can both learn from and help advance other scientific fields.

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Archaeological Views: Digital Archaeology’s New Frontiers by Todd R. Hanneken. Seventeen years into the “digital millennium”—which supposedly began in 2000—it would be understandable if a certain cynicism arose for everything new, digital, high tech or cyber. Particularly in archaeology—what have digital tools really done for us that earlier, traditional tools did not? Is a digital photograph that much better than a film photograph? Does a laser distance measurer produce better archaeology than established survey tools? What does a computer 3D model do that a hand-drawn or built model cannot? Do we really understand the ancient world more clearly thanks to computers?

Nebuchadnezzar & Solomon by Bill T. Arnold. The current debate over the historical value of the Biblical narrative has called into question the very existence of an “ancient Israel.” Indeed, key features of the Bible’s familiar storyline—Israel’s arrival from outside Canaan, wars with the indigenous Canaanite inhabitants, eventual emergence into nationhood and the United Kingdom—are considered by so-called minimalists to be largely legendary and without historical value.

The Fury of Babylon: Ashkelon and the Archaeology of Destruction by Lawrence E. Stager. In 586 B.C.E. Nebuchadrezzar (also known as Nebuchadnezzar II), king of Babylon, attacked Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and burned the city. This of course is the focal point of the Biblical story. For Nebuchadrezzar, however, Jerusalem was only one of many prizes, part of a major military operation in the West extending over many years. The real battle was between two superpowers—the newly ascendant Babylonian Empire in the East (replacing the Assyrians) and Egypt in the West. Hebrew University professor Avraham Malamat has aptly applied the term “bipolar politics” to this contest.

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