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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Ancient Chronology of Jerusalem's Holy Rock

Believe it or not, you are looking at Mount Moriah and at its peak, Jerusalem's Temple Mount. This deserted mountain is 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 in the mountainside rock. A narrow single access passage provided a concealed entry for its inhabitants. The dwelling must have 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 attracted visitors. Temporarily dwelling on the mountain they sought advice, prayed, made sacrificial offerings and moved on. Higher up the steep east facing slope, a ridge, a platform with views to the stream along the eastern valley floor became the meeting place for worshipers and advice seekers.

Artisans chipped away the bedrock that once rose from the ridge on the eastern face until hollow spaces formed depressions in the rock. The depressions were enlarged, shaped into rooms that were exposed to the sky. More rock-on-rock chipping eventually smoothed vertical walls from the hollowed spaces, until the depressions became rectangular and bedrock walls arose from the bedrock floor that had been lowered by the artisans.

Two rooms preserved access to the rear (west), rising, undulating bedrock ridge, perhaps to facilitate movement of people, supplies and animals to be sacrificed. A low bedrock platform in room 3 purposefully left  by the artisan 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. Rooms of Iron Age houses had been built on the rear bedrock providing internal access to the spaces at the rear of room 1 and 3. In the rear opening of room 1, clay weights, once used as part of a weaving loom were discovered (Ronny Reich). On the norther section of the ridge in Kathleen Kenyon's excavation trench, a Middle Bronze Age wall, pottery sherds and artifacts were uncovered.


The features chiseled into the bedrock are confirmed to have been made by rock implements and may have been added progressively after the walls and complex was completed. At some point after completion of room 2, a matzevah (massebah) was placed onto the bedrock. 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  will explore the cave dwelling and ridge complex and chronologically estimate whether they were contextually related.


Along the ridge to the North-East Middle Bronze Age pottery sherds and wall (NB) were discovered by archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon. Room 1 and adjacent room 2 (below), being tidied by Eli Shukron who rediscovered it in 2008.  



The earliest 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 - Early Bronze Age cave is relatively sophisticated. To the west further up the slope, sophisticated Early Bronze Age tombs and pottery were discovered by Parker-Vincent.


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 Vincent compiled during his excavations. The rectangular area marks the site of present excavations immediately west of the high ridge (circled). 


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 round chamber of 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 (south) of the red line and are the earliest additions after the high ridge construction. Bones of kosher animals, fish and many pictorial bullae were discovered in the pool.


Significantly and curiously the next major construction appears to be the remaining fortress over the Gihon Spring (House) and some of the walls surrounding the city. The features left (south) of the red line, which were rediscovered by Eli Shukron and Ronnie Reich in 2008 have not been rendered into the next artist impression, many interpretations like this fail to incorporate their significance. 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. The time of construction for features right (north) of the red line is thought to be very Late Bronze through Iron Age, particularly at the north-east.


Archaeology clarifies that water sourced from the Gihon Spring was not necessarily the object of the significant fortress (David Citadel) construction. The image below demonstrates that water was channeled from the Gihon (left-north) to the Iron Age lower pool structure right-south 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 Round Chamber and Rock-Cut upper Gihon pool, but excess water 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 and Channel I indicate the by-pass discussed in the image above, which flowed water to the newer lower Gihon pool (near rock "B"). 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 corridor adjacent (south) to the Gihon Spring because water continued to flow to the valley floor during the Iron Age II period before Hezekiah.


The fortification massive boulders (looking west) neatly arranged up the steep eastern face eventually butt against the city wall and conceal the north end of the high ridge. Further, the ultimate 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 of the fortified corridor 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 of the mountain and the bedrock 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 included a substantial cave dwelling and temple complex that was once used for regular holy worship.