Evidence of the Babylonian Destruction of Jerusalem

Further evidence of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians has been discovered during excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority at the Jerusalem Walls-City of David National Park.1

Structures dating back more than 2600 years have been uncovered in excavations centred on the eastern slope of the City of David. Collapsed layers of stone were found to contain charred wood, grape seeds, shattered pottery, fish scales and bones, which is startling proof of the city’s destruction by the Babylonians in 586 BC.

The Kingdom of Judah came to an end with the captivity of its last king, Zedekiah. After a protracted siege by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, Jerusalem was burnt and its walls broken down (2 King 25:9-10). Under terrible conditions, which included famine and disease (2 King 25:1-3; Jer 14:16), the city fell to the invaders and the majority of the people were taken into captivity.

Dozens of storage jars have also been found with stamped handles bearing the seal of a rosette. It appears that they were used for both grain and liquids. The seals are typical of those that were used in the administrative system that operated at the end of the Kingdom of Judah, say the excavation’s directors, Ortal Chalaf and Dr Joe Uziel.

Signs have also emerged of the affluence of Jerusalem’s population. Ornamental artefacts of outstanding quality have been found at the site. One unique find is a small ivory statue of a woman, with excellent carved work that displays the skill of the artist. However, the statue is naked and has Egyptian features, betraying the corruption that had spread throughout the Kingdom of Judah on the eve of the Babylonian overthrow ( Jer 7:18).

The excavation also reveals that Jerusalem had extended beyond the line of the eastern city wall before its destruction by the Babylonians. Under the kings, Jerusalem was constantly growing as is seen in the construction of numerous city walls. Population growth meant that the city later spread beyond its western wall as well.

Shattered jugs, attesting to the First Temple-era destruction in the City of David. (Eliyahu Yani, Courtesy of the City of David Archive)

Archaeologists have also discovered a collection of ancient seals that date from the time of King Hezekiah (ca. 700 BC), down to the destruction of Jerusalem. These seals bear the names of officials in early Hebrew script, and are made of small pieces of clay. They are well preserved and were used to securely seal letters.2

The seals are inscribed with familiar biblical names, including some that are identified with the northern Kingdom of Israel. This indicates that refugees from the north settled in Judah following the overthrow of the Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians.

Discoveries at Shiloh

Storage jars dating to the period when Israel entered the land have been discovered at the site of ancient Shiloh, reports Brother Leen Ritmeyer.3 They were found buried in a large room that is part of an ongoing archaeological excavation by the Archaeological Unit of the Civil Administration, which operates under Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.4 Researchers are hoping to identify the site of the tabernacle which was set up at Shiloh when Israel conquered the land under Joshua (Josh 18:1).

The storage vessels are similar to those discovered by Israel Finkelstein during his work at Shiloh from 1981 to 1984. Finkelstein also found a layer of mud bricks in the area he was excavating.5 Of the ten storage jars discovered, some were broken. The excavations show that the site was suddenly abandoned, with the occupants having to leave behind their possessions. This may have happened at the time of the Philistine invasion and defeat of Israel at Eben-ezer, or sometime later (1 Sam 4:10-11).

The Bible provides fairly precise details for the location of Shiloh: “a place which is on the north side of Beth-el, on the east side of the highway that goeth up from Beth-el to Shechem, and on the south of Lebonah” ( Judg 21:19). It appears that the tabernacle was part of a centre of worship in Shiloh in the time of the Judges (Judg 18:31; 1 Sam 1:3,9), but was overthrown and abandoned by Yahweh (Psa 78:60). Jeremiah prophesied that Jerusalem and its temple would meet the same end because of the evil attitude of the nation ( Jer 7:12,14; 26:6-9).

A goblet known as a kobaat, a type of ritual chalice, was also found among the jars. This discovery may be related to the stone altar that was uncovered at the site in recent years. The archaeological team also discovered quantities of animal bones. The bones have been sent to Tel Aviv University for analysis by the staff zoo-archaeologist to determine if they were mainly from young sacrificial animals.6 These remains may be from offerings made at Shiloh by worshippers such as Elkanah, husband of Hannah (1 Sam 1:4-5).

Again, archaeology confirms the history of Israel and stands as a warning to our generation. Israel failed to faithfully follow the ways of Yahweh, despite the goodness of God toward them. The return of Christ is very near, so may we be found faithfully maintaining the truth we have received.

References:

  1. Daniel K. Eisenbud, “Evidence of Babylonian Destruction of Jerusalem Unearthed in City of David”, The Jerusalem Post, 26 July, 2017 [online] http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Evidence-of-Babylonian-destruction-of-Jerusalem-unearthed-in-City-of-David-500786
    Israel Antiquities Authority, “Evidence of Babylonian Destruction of Jerusalem Found at the City of David” [online] http://www.antiquities.org.il/article_eng.aspx?sec_ id=25&subj_id=240&id=4302
  2. Daniel K. Eisenbud , “Seals from Judean Kingdom period shed light on life in ancient Jerusalem”, The Jerusalem Post, 4 September, 2017 [online] http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Seals-from-Judean-Kingdom-period-shed-light-on-life-in- ancient-Jerusalem-504173
  3. [Online] http://www.ritmeyer.com/2017/07/14/finds-from-a-new-excavation-in-shiloh/
  4. Israel Hayom Newsletter, July 14, 2017 [online] http://www. israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=43843
  5. Don McNeeley, “A Brief Overview of Discoveries from the Shiloh Excavations 2017”, Associates for Biblical Research, Aug 01, 2017 [online] http://www.biblearchaeology.org/ post/2017/08/01/A-Brief-Overview-of-Discoveries-from-the-Shiloh-Excavations-2017.aspx
  6. Don McNeeley.