Sunday, November 19, 2017

Ancient Chronology of Jerusalem's Holy Rock

Believe it or not, you are looking at Mount Moriah and Jerusalem's Temple Mount a deserted mountain nested among others, one rock from top to bottom between an eastern and western valley. On its lower eastern face its first permanent cave dwelling, a living space with three sleeping quarters carved neatly into the mountainside rock. A narrow single access passage carved into the rock provided entry. The dwelling passed through generations, but the mountain, which was periodically occupied remained mostly desolate and the cave empty of inhabitants.

A spiritual practitioner, perhaps an oracle or healer brought visitors. Temporarily dwelling on the mountain they sought advice, prayed, made offerings and moved on. Higher up the slope, a ridge with views to the stream along the eastern valley floor became the meeting place for worshipers and advice seekers.

Artisans chipped away at bedrock that rose from the high ridge on the eastern face until hollow spaces formed depressions in the rock. Then, the depressions were shaped into rooms that were exposed to the sky. More rock-on-rock chipping smoothed vertical walls from the hollowed spaces, until the depressions became rectangular and bedrock walls arose from the bedrock floor. The eastern face of each of three rooms opened to provide access at the descending section of the ridge.

Two rooms preserved access to the rear, rising, undulating bedrock ridge, perhaps to facilitate movement of people, supplies and animals to be sacrificed. A platform in room 3 purposefully spared by the rock-chippers.

Archaeology recently revealed that the openings in the rear of room 1 and room 3 provided access to a rising bedrock as seen in the images below.

The features chiseled into the bedrock are confirmed to have been made by rock implements.  Other features carved into the bedrock floor may have been added after the walls and complex was completed. At some point after completion, a matzevah (massebah) was placed onto the bedrock,  between the walls of room 2. This matzevah has been standing in its place on the bedrock of the high ridge ever since it was erected.

How long did bedrock room 2 exist before the matzevah was placed? Did room 2 serve an initial purpose other than for the placement of the matzevah? To answer some of these questions we  explore the cave dwelling and ridge complex to chronologically estimate construction.

Room 1 and adjacent room 2, being tidied by Eli Shukron who rediscovered it in 2008

The earliest small rudimentary cave dwelling on the lower eastern face was first re-discovered by Colonel Montague Parker between 1909-1911. In the only published picture of the cave he is seen sitting with his assistant. Although this cave was preceded by other paleolithic sites on the eastern face, this chalcolithic era cave is relatively sophisticated. 

The living area of the cave dwelling and 3 sleeping quarters can be see in K 19,20,21 (bottom left)  of the map that Parker compiled during his excavations. The rectangular area marks the site of present excavations on the high ridge and the circled area the focus of this article. 

More substantial constructions followed the cave on the high ridge. Later, in the Bronze age water was channeled from the natural Gihon Spring on the eastern face to the rock cut upper Gihon pool. The pool, immediately adjacent and below the cave dwelling was constructed specifically to hold water and spill excess to the stream along the valley floor. These are featured in the image below, left of the red line and are the earliest additions after the high ridge construction. Exclusively bones of kosher animals and many pictorial bullae were discovered in the pool.

Significantly and curiously the next major construction appears to be the fortress over the Gihon Spring (House) and the walls surrounding the city. The features left of the red line, which were rediscovered by Eli Shukron and Ronnie Reich in 2008 are not rendered in the next artist impression and many public renderings fail to recognize their significance and include them. The time of construction for features right of the red line is thought to be late Bronze age. Although the Upper Gihon pool is not shown below, for some time water continued to flow into it and into the stream along the valley floor. But that may have changed at some point after construction. 

The archaeology clarifies that water sourced from the Gihon Spring was not the object of the significant fortress construction. The image below demonstrates that water was channeled from the Gihon (left) to the later lower pool structure right of rock "B" and from there it flowed to the valley floor. Once this became the default channel, the previous route may have been blocked to prevent water entering the upper Gihon pool, but excess to the valley floor continued to flow freely.

The map below demonstrates the rock-cut upper Gihon pool (grey box) was first fed by Tunnel III. Channel II indicates the by-pass discussed in the image above, which flowed water to the newer lower Gihon pool (see Pool Wall). It also shows the Fortification (cream color) made of large boulders constructed on top and adjacent to the older grey rock-cut bedrock elements.

Water does not appear to have been the motivating reason for construction of the very significant fortification over the Gihon Spring. Its massive boulders neatly arranged up the steep eastern face  butt against and hide the north end of the high ridge. Further, the construction completely blocked access to the high ridge and prioritized water flow to the lower Gihon pool, most likely blocking water flow to the upper pool.

Inspiration for this most significant, multi-nation, labor intensive construction favors obfuscation of the high ridge, upper Gihon pool and cave dwelling complex on the eastern face of Mount Moriah. The imposing double wall features of the Gihon fortification terminated high above the valley floor, at the high ridge cutting access to the southern slope and the rooms that once featured so heavily on the mountain face.

According to comments by Eli Shukron the entire high ridge and particularly the areas around the matzevah were preserved with soft sand for thousands of years, where everything else required excavations of rocks and rough rubble. Therefore the high ridge areas were carefully buried for preservation.

Whether or not the high ridge was re-discovered or used by King David or by Hezekiah during the construction of his channel remains unknown. However, matzevot (like the matzevah on the high ridge) were not permitted to be erected after the period of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Well before Herod, Solomon or Joshua, there was a matzevah erected on the eastern slope of Mount Moriah in a location that was a substantial home and place used for regular holy worship.