On the eve of Tisha B’av, the fast day commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples, archaeological evidence of that destruction has been uncovered, verifying the truth of the Book of Kings and reaffirming that the Temples stood in Jerusalem.
In a discovery the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) called “mesmerizing proof” of the Babylonian destruction of the First Temple, structures over 2,600 years old were exposed under collapsed layers of stone in Jerusalem’s City of David excavation park.
“We have a very very clear destruction level” showing signs of destruction by fire, said Dr. Joe Uziel, Excavation Director of the IAA.
The Second Book of Kings describes the Babylonian attack on Jerusalem in detail. King Nebuchadnezzar and his army besieged the city of Jerusalem for two years before the city walls were breached, and on the seventh day of the month of Av, the destruction began.
On the seventh day of the fifth month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the chief of the guards, an officer of the king of Babylon, came to Yerushalayim. He burned the House of Hashem, the king’s palace, and all the houses of Yerushalayim; he burned down the house of every notable person. The entire Chaldean force that was with the chief of the guard tore down the walls of Yerushalayim on every side. II Kings 25:8-1
The First Temple was burned on the ninth of Av (Tisha B’Av), which has ever since been a day of mourning for the Jewish people. This year it will fall in less than a week, on August 1.
The City of David discovery was full of clues revealing the nature of First Temple-era life. Within the collapse, archaeologists found charred wood, grape seeds, pottery, fish scales and bones, and unique and rare artifacts.
“These findings depict the affluence and character of Jerusalem, capital of the Judean Kingdom,” the IAA’s statement said.
Dozens of clay storage jars, used for both grain and liquids like wine, were discovered, several of which had stamped seals depicting a rosette on the handle. The seals are typical of the end of the First Temple Judean period, said IAA excavation directors Ortal Chalaf and Dr. Uziel.
The seals “were used for the administrative system that developed towards the end of the Judean dynasty,” they said in a joint statement.
They added that some of the ornamental finds indicated the wealth and prosperity of the Judean Kingdom’s capital. Among the finds was a “distinct and rare” small ivory statue of a woman, with a particularly high quality of carving attesting to “the high caliber of the artifact’s artistic level, and the skill par excellence of the artists during this era.”
The excavation also shed light on the true borders of First Temple Jerusalem. The structures were discovered beyond the wall constituting the then-eastern border of the capital, proving that the bustling city had already outgrown its fortifications before the Babylonian destruction.