Excavating under Jerusalem’s Old City, Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists have discovered what they think may have been a 2000-year-old city council building.1 Director of the excavation Dr Shlomit Weksler-Bdolach described the structure as one of the most magnificent public buildings from the Second Temple period that has ever been uncovered outside the Temple Mount walls in Jerusalem.

Believed to have been constructed about AD20, several years before Pontius Pilate became governor of Judea and John the Baptist began his ministry of preparing the nation for the coming of Christ, the building may have been used as a dining room by important members of society on their way to worship.

Early assessments had dated the structure to the early Hasmonean period (152–37BC). But with carbon-14 dating of organic materials from below the building’s paving, as well as the discovery of coins and potsherds, archaeologists revised the date of construction to no earlier than AD20. Precise dating is difficult, says Dr Weksler-Bdolach, as the site cannot be fully excavated because other important subterranean structures from other eras have to be preserved.

The grand structure has an ornate water fountain and decorative Corinthian capitals, and underwent a series of structural changes prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. The water fountain was no longer used, and just before Jerusalem was destroyed, what is believed to be a ritual bath or mikveh was added. The decorations are plain, without images that would transgress the Law of Moses (see, Exod 20:4). Archaeologists now know that over the 50 years it was occupied, the large public structure was separated into three different spaces.

Shachar Puni, architect for the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Conservation Department, says that one of the unique features of ancient Jerusalem is that new construction was built on top of older structures. Therefore, many buildings were left completely intact under the ground. Domed ceilings served as building foundations, while structures underneath were used as basements, cisterns or hidden living spaces.

Interesting as these discoveries are, they will all be swept away when Jerusalem is transformed at the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to set up God’s kingdom. Speaking of the glorious future that awaits Jerusalem, Yahweh says: “I will bring again the captivity of Jacob’s tents, and have mercy on his dwellingplaces; and the city shall be builded upon her own heap, and the palace shall remain after the manner thereof” (Jer 30:18). Then Jerusalem shall be called “the throne of Yahweh; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of Yahweh, to Jerusalem” (Jer 3:17).

References:

  1. Amanda Borschel-Dan, “Magnificent 2,000-year-old ‘city hall’ unearthed near Western Wall”, The Times of Israel, [8 July 2021], online at: https://www.timesofisrael.com/magnificent-2000-year-old-city-hall-unearthed-near-western-wall/