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Destructive Excavations at the Temple mount (2007)

In July 2007 the religious Muslim authority responsible for the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (The Waqf) has been reported for digging a trench in the area north of the Dome of the Rock. The trench was dug by a tractor, a technique which is not acceptable for any archaeological dig. A tractor trowel cannot tell the difference in layers, handle pottery and glass shards gently, or detect coins and bones. In 1999 The Waqf turned an “emergency exit” underneath El Aksa mosque into a large new entrance to a subterranean mosque complex. The earth was taken out by tractors and trucks and dumped in the Kidron valley nearby. To this day a team of two archaeologists, G. Barkay and Z. Zewig, are conducting a project to sift through this debris with the aim of recovering small finds that could illuminate the history of this important mountain. Indeed their finds are small, but many, and echo in great detail the activities of different cultures on the mountain throughout history. Unfortunately the finds are out of context, so the sequence of events and architectural remains cannot be studied. Z. Zwieg, who also set up a website to document the destructive works done at the Temple Mount by the Waqf (www.har-habayt.org), visited the Temple Mount during the construction of the trench, and saw the tractor at work. But to his surprise, Israeli police and a supervisor of the Israel Antiquity Authority were also present at the scene. Though they did not interfere with the work of the tractor, they were reluctant to provide any explanations, and did not allow him to even photograph at the site. Nevertheless, a friend of Zachi, Mr. Gideon Charlap, managed to get some photos of the trench. In most parts it was 0.5 meter deep, but at some places it was 1 meter deep. In some parts pottery shards could be traced, and in one spot the remains of an ancient wall were seen.

view of the closed trench, taken in August 2007. © Danny Herman

view of the closed trench, taken in August 2007. © Danny Herman

A photo of the trench dug by The Waqf, north of the Dome of the Rock. © G. Charlap.

A photo of the trench dug by The Waqf, north of the Dome of the Rock. © G. Charlap.

After laying the cables, the trench was covered. On a visit just before the deadline for this report I could not see any part of the trench left open. Any attempts made by me, or others, to get documented information of the finds revealed in the dig were in vain. Jerusalem district archaeologists of the IAA referred me to the head of the IAA, Shuka Dorfman, who in turn responded only that “the dig was supervised by IAA”, but didn’t provide details of the finds, although certainly some were made.

Siloam Inscription Replica place in the Tunnel

In 701 BC the Assyrians attacked Judea in a plan to conquer and loot all sites and cities of the Judeans and the Philistines. Hezekiah, the king of Judea at that time, was well aware of the planned attack, so in Jerusalem he intensified the fortifications of the city, and diverted the water of the local Gihon spring from its source to a safe pool in the southern edge of the city (II Kings 20:20). The diversion of the water source of the city to a safer zone required quarrying a tunnel 533 meters long, with very few ventilation shafts, and in a very low angle of 0.003%. This amazing engineering achievement was completed in time, and the Assyrians failed to conquer the city. The water tunnel, known as “Hezekiah’s Tunnel”, still operates to this day, and is a great experience for any visitor touring the city of Jerusalem.

In the 19th century CE an inscription made by the hewers of the tunnel was discovered near its end, and it was carved out of the rock and taken by the Turkish authorities to their main archaeological museum in Istanbul. An ugly scar is all that was left behind in the tunnel.

In Hebrew there is a saying that means something like “The work of the righteous is done by others”. This saying became relevant for me recently. For many years I had the vision of placing a replica of the missing inscription in the place where it once was. This last year I even found a donor to sponsor the cost of this project. But when I started inquiring about the costs and procedure of making and placing a replica, I was notified that somebody else was already doing it! Indeed ELAD organization, which is sponsoring recent digs in the City of David, recently placed a replica of Hezekiah’s Inscription near the end of the tunnel. Last week I had a chance to see it myself for the first time. I was happy it was finally done, yet I was surprised to find out the replica was not placed where the original inscription was. It was installed 2 meters away.

The indentation where the Siloam Inscription was found. The newly placed replica is in the background. © Danny Herman

The indentation where the Siloam Inscription was found. The newly placed replica is in the background. © Danny Herman

The replica, with the indentation from the original inscription in the background. © Danny Herman

The replica, with the indentation from the original inscription in the background. © Danny Herman

Perhaps there is hope that Turkey will one day return the original inscription. I doubt that will happen in the near future, and even if so, the inscription is too valuable and better kept at the Israel Museum. Still, this new addition to the “Hezekiah’s Tunnel Experience” is a blessing for all. Recently ELAD organization also sponsored repairing the floor of the tunnel (see my report “News from Jerusalem 2007-3”). So even if you have walked through the tunnel before, the site now provides new attractions worth a second visit.