Jerusalem's system of walls were built over millennia (Photo: TheJudean)

Everyone agrees on one thing: Already in the Middle Bronze Age (1550-2000 BC) Jerusalem was a significant city that is also mentioned in non-biblical writings. Was the city surrounded by a wall already in the Bronze Age? Is Jerusalem indeed a "walled city from the time of Joshua bin-Nun?"

This is an important question, because if not, the very existence of the Kingdom of David, a large and united kingdom in the 10th century BC, as described in the Bible, is suspect. To try and solve the mystery, we need to review the main findings in the field.

First, it is known from other sources than the Bible that Jerusalem, the population and by default, the boundaries of the capital of the Kingdom of Judah, expanded significantly in the second half of the 8th century BC. Was this a result of refugees from the Kingdom of Israel that had just been destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC or was it simply a natural increase? We still do not know, but it is clear that until a period This city was concentrated on the eastern side of what we know now to be the Old City of Jerusalem, the area that includes the Temple Mount and today's City of David.

The western side, where the Jewish quarter and the Armenian quarter are today, was uninhabited until this period. On the Temple Mount, for obvious reasons, it is impossible to dig, so excavations over the years have focused on the area of the City of David, the narrow spur that sits "above" the Gihon Spring, otherwise known as ‘The Fountain of The Virgin’.

The archaeological expeditions that excavated the site, such as the expedition of the British general Sir Charles Warren and other diggers in the 18th and 19th centuries, dated the findings in the Gihon Spring area to the Bronze Age.

Logic then indicated that the shaft found by Warren in 1867, a vertical shaft at a height of about 14 meters leading to a storage pond, was already dug in this early period in order to allow access to the spring outside the city walls. And if there were no walls, then there would be no need for a shaft.

From this, the logical conclusion one draws from this has the effect of arousing one's imagination: "Warren’s Shaft" as it is called is actually the tunnel described in the story of David's conquest of the city (2 Samuel 5-8): " Anyone who conquers the Jebusites will have to use the water shaft to reach those ‘lame and blind’ who are David’s enemies."

During the 20th century, extensive parts of the eastern side of the City of David, towards the Kidron River, were excavated, and impressive monumental finds were found, such as a tower that stood above the spring, and sections of a massive stone wall. The excavators found among the stones and in the foundations of the tower pottery from the Bronze Age, and therefore these sections of the wall were dated to this period.

This dating opened a long debate. On the one hand, the pottery found cannot be ignored. On the other hand, it is possible that the builders of the tower used dirt in an area that already contained pottery from earlier settlement periods. In such a small area, everything mixes.

In the previous decade, Joe Uziel and Nachshon Zanton from the Israel Antiquities Authority and Weizmann Institute researchers Johanna Regev and Elisabetta Boaretto tried to solve the mystery by drilling tiny holes under the foundations of the tower's structure and dating organic materials using carbon-14 testing.

To everyone's surprise, remains were found that testified to the dating of the layer to the 9th century BC, after the era of David and Solomon. The finding did not settle the dispute but sent the archaeologists into another round of arguments that continues to this day.

And what about the western side of the City of David, the one above the "gully"? If indeed the ancient city was surrounded by a wall, we would expect to find sections of the wall there as well. Many excavations have been conducted on the western side: in the "Givati" parking lot, a large-scale excavation has been conducted in recent years led by Prof. Yuval Gadot from Tel Aviv University and Dr. Yiftach Shalu from the Antiquities Authority, but the findings discovered there do not point to a wall from the 10th century or earlier. Nothing and nothing.

Where was a wall found? on the western side of the western hill (where the Jewish quarter is located today). It was connected to the wall of the City of David and surrounded the area where today the Jewish quarter and the Armenian quarter reside.

Prof. David Osishkin of Tel Aviv University, one of the fathers of archeology in the Land of Israel, proposes to date the entire complex found, the tower and the entire wall, to the eighth century. If he is right, this may be a revolution in the way we understand the Bible and the history of the city.

Is the wall found on the western hill the famous wall that Hezekiah built and strengthened in preparation for the arrival of Sennacherib's army in 701 BC? This is a very reasonable hypothesis, but it is impossible to know for sure.

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